After driving for over half a century, the time was quickly approaching for my mom to turn over her car keys. I knew it wouldn't be an easy ask; she loves her independence.
Before we had the conversation, her back was bothering her so she couldn't really drive. She became comfortable with having us take her around and so we continued on even when she was better. We got out of having "the talk" with my mother, but for many it's a tough road to travel to get their elderly parents to stop driving.
There are some older folks that are fine to drive. My father was one of them. He was sharper and more alert than most drivers I know. He never had a ticket or accident. I didn't worry about him behind the wheel.
But for those elderly parents who shouldn't be driving, how do you get them to accept the reality that their days behind the wheel are over? I see it as a three-step process. First, determining that they need to stop driving. Second, having the conversation. And finally, dealing with any negative reactions.
AAA, the American Automobile Association, says there are signs to watch out for that could indicate an elderly person is losing their ability to drive:
- If they are weaving or straddling between lanes or crossing over lines.
- Forgetting to put on the turn signal when changing lanes or turning is another serious sign to be aware of.
- Look out for any confusion between the brake and gas pedals. There should be an ease of moving between the two.
- They should not be lifting their legs to go between the gas and brakes, but rather keeping their heel on the floor and using their toes to press down.
- It's also important to review the possible side effects of any medications that could impair driving.
If you determine it's time to talk to a parent or other older adult about no longer driving, Senior Driving at AAA suggests open and respectful communication. You don't want to make the person feel they are a dangerous driver.
AAA also notes that generalizations about older drivers and their abilities can be offensive. Better to stay positive and supportive. Also, avoid the feeling of an intervention. You don't need to have the entire family in on the conversation. A heart-to-heart between you and the older drive may work best. One of the main reasons older people do not want to give up driving is they feel it will take away their independence. Assure them that they will be able to still get around and do everything they did before. Some cities have wonderful senior ride programs which include taxis offering a flat minimum rate to drive elderly people.
Finally, you may be dealing with hurt and negative pushback. Don't take this personally or be defensive. Just listen and acknowledge their feelings. Let them know you understand how disappointing and upsetting this can be. Remind them that it is for their own safety and this will not set limits on them. You don't want to come across as bossy or insensitive. Some older people may react positively to not having to pay for auto insurance, gas and other car expenses so be sure to remind them of this. Losing the ability to drive is a difficult reality for many but patience and compassion will go a long way.
About the author: Jeanette Pavini is a two-time Emmy Award winning consumer reporter completely over 10,000 money-saving stories. She is a columnist for The Street's Retirement Daily, and a contributor to various news outlets and a guest contributor for The Today Show. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, The Wall Street Journal Weekend and USA Today. She was the chief consumer reporter for CBS 5 News in San Francisco where her money-saving segments became the backbone to her 30-minute consumer show.