Has the Time Come? Facing a Tough Conversation with Elderly Parents about Driving

Many of us with elderly parents have a growing concern about their driving. Every time they get into the car alone, we worry that they could get into an accident, just as they used to worry about us when we were in our teenage years.

The difference is that most teenagers will become better drivers. Elderly drivers, on the other hand, are dealing with declining driving abilities. At some point our parents will need to give up driving, and it may be up to us to tell them the time has come.

If you are facing this difficult conversation with an elderly loved one in your life, first, know that it is the correct conversation to have. You are concerned about their welfare. Second, you are not alone.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (GA DDS) says there are more than one million drivers over the age of 65 in Georgia. More than 620,000 are 70 or older. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says a fourth of drivers will be 65 or older by 2025.

A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about “pedal error” – mixing up the brake and accelerator – says this mistake causes 16,000 car accidents every year.

Drivers older than 65, are four times more likely to get into an accident caused by pedal error.

People are living independently longer and few drivers need to give up the keys at 65 or 70, even. Still, it’s not all about age.

The AAA Foundation says 95 percent of seniors use medications that may impair driving. AAA has an interactive tool for understanding how medications may affect drivers and their driving abilities.

Warning Signs of Diminished Driving Ability

The GA DDS says that signs of diminished capacity for driving safely include:

  • Having serious or minor accidents or near misses
  • Being unable to read ordinary road signs or signals
  • Getting lost on familiar roads
  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Having other drivers honk at you frequently
  • Being spoken to about your driving by police, family, and friends.

AAA has a self-assessment tool for senior drivers that includes several statements for an older driver to consider. Among them are:

  • Intersections bother me because there is so much to watch from all directions.
  • I find it difficult to decide when to merge with traffic on a busy interstate highway.
  • My thoughts wander when I drive.
  • Traffic situations make me angry.

If you have noticed some of these problems with an elderly loved one’s driving, or in conversation he or she admits to them, it is time for a serious talk.

You need to keep in mind that giving up the car keys is a big step in an elderly person’s life. Driving represents independence and freedom – and you’re talking about taking it away. Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA, told the Today show that you should have alternatives in mind before starting the conversation.

In addition to help from family and friends, public transportation, taxis and Uber and the like, GA DDS suggests contacting the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for help identifying organizations in your area that can assist your parent with transportation needs.

But you need to have a plan and be ready to assure your parent that they’ll be able to count on you and it.

The Care.com site suggests choosing the best family member to speak to your parent and making sure everyone is on the same page. Obviously, this should not be a confrontational discussion. If your parent gets upset, it is crucial that everyone else remains calm. It may be easier to shift the focus from your parent’s driving abilities to their safety or others’. You might say, “I wouldn’t know what to do if you were hurt in a car accident” or “Do you feel safe driving your grandchildren?”

Care.com suggests the conversation may be appropriate if tied to a specific incident, like a crash, a health setback or time to renew their license. On the other hand, don’t wait for something bad to happen if the signs say it’s only a matter of time.

A good setting for this conversation might be a doctor visit that you accompany your parent to. You should contact the doctor ahead of time to tell them you’d like to bring the topic up.

Short of a full end to driving, maybe your mom or dad would benefit from limits, such as driving during daylight hours only and no interstate driving, or by adding an extra-wide mirror to their car. You might suggest a driving assessment and/or refresher course with a GA DDS-certified defensive driving/driver improvement school.

Georgia’s Driver Review Process to Assess Abilities and Vision of Senior Drivers

If your parent resists and you feel like there is a real danger, Georgia has a formal medical revocation process you may need to use. Under this procedure, a non-anonymous relative, court, law enforcement officer, judge, doctor, or concerned citizen can write a letter or fill out a form – Request for Driver Review (DDS 270) – about the diminished driving ability of a licensed Georgia driver. Georgia DDS will initiate an evaluation that includes medical and vision assessments.

This can be a trying time. On the other hand, some seniors who realize it has become more difficult to drive may be secretly relieved to quit if they can tell themselves that it was someone else’s idea that they could do nothing about it. Regardless, if it is truly what is needed, everyone will be safer and happier in the long run.

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by another driver in the greater Atlanta area, talk to a car accident lawyer who can explain your legal options free of charge.