If you’re struggling to figure out how to break the news to mom, dad, or Grandma that they shouldn’t be driving anymore, you’re not alone. In 2013, Pfizer conducted a study with Generations United as part of their Get Old wellness campaign and determined that “the hardest conversation to have with elderly parents is telling them to stop driving and hand over their car keys -- more difficult (39%) than talking to parents about their final wishes or wills (both 24%)."
When you’re trying to figure out how to handle this important topic, there are a few important things to remember. Here are some tips:
- Acknowledge how hard this must be for them and engage in the topic respectfully. For most adults, driving is equated with freedom, from the time when we’re first handed those keys at 16. Asking a loved one to give up their car keys isn’t a small request, it’s a life-changing event.
- Help them figure out alternative transportation. Your loved one may not know how to navigate life without a car, so having options in place may help a difficult conversation. Public transportation or ride share options like Uber or Lyft might be a convenient option for savvy seniors. You may also be able to rely on family or friends, so put out feelers. If one family member is available every Thursday, perhaps they could set aside that time to help Grandpa get to the grocery store or other appointments.
- If you’re not sure whether their driving is safe, getting in the car with your loved one might help you know what to say. If you observe their driving firsthand, take notes on any traffic violations or confusion about rules of the road. Pay special attention to how they handle changing lanes, maintaining a safe speed, navigating parking lots, and handling turns. Consider this helpful checklist from Caregiverlist.
- Consider involving the DMV. If it’s near time for a renewal, the Department of Motor Vehicles may break the news for you. If your loved one’s license is not up for renewal, know that some states will allow residents to report a driver they believe to be unsafe for further investigation. While Illinois is not one of those states, it may be an option to contact your loved one’s doctor to discuss your concerns and have them start the process of investigation, which generally involves a road test. You’ll need to decide whether this approach is appropriate in your situation—in some families, a letter from the DMV requiring a retest might be navigated more easily than a conversation with the kids or grandkids, but you would know best.
Even if the conversation is difficult, it’s important that you address the issue head on. Your loved one likely knows that they’re not safe behind the wheel, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t react with frustration, anger, or resistance. Still, the most important thing is to keep everyone safe, both your loved ones and others they may encounter on the road.