How to Tell Your Senior Parent It’s Time to Stop Driving

By: Zeb Goldstein

Here are 7 tips for talking with your senior parent about giving up their car keys.

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Does your mom or dad’s car suddenly have more dents and scrapes than usual? Have they recently been ticketed for several traffic violations, putting an end to their streak of flawless driving? If so, it may be time for you to discuss reducing their time behind the wheel — or giving up their keys altogether.

Asking your older parent to stop driving can be extremely difficult. In fact, a survey conducted by Pfizer and Generations United found more respondents said the hardest conversation they had with their senior parents was over driving — not their finances, final wishes, or wills.

Seven helpful tips to talk about taking away the car keys

If it’s time for your aging parent to give up their keys, consider these seven tips to help your conversation go a little smoother.

1. Be sympathetic

For most adults, driving is an essential form of freedom. It’s important to recognize that you aren’t just asking your parent to give up their keys — you’re asking that they radically change their lifestyle. If they can’t drive, they may have to alter their daily routines, who they see, and the places they go.

No one likes it when someone tells them they shouldn’t do something anymore, even if they already know it themselves. You may be met with frustration, hostility, or denial. Remember to remain calm and keep your emotions in check. A family meeting to talk with your parents may make them feel as though everyone is ganging up on them — instead, ask a trusted family member to have a one-on-one talk with them.

2. Know the facts

One ticket doesn’t necessarily mean your parent should stop driving. An empty claim that they’re an unsafe driver will likely fall on deaf ears. Ride with them and take note of any behaviors that seem unsafe so that you have specific examples to point to when you explain why they should no longer be behind the wheel.

It’s important to also have a clear picture of your parent’s health. How did they perform on their most recent eye exam? What medications are they taking? Can any of them affect their driving? Has their doctor recommended that they limit their time driving? Knowing the answers to these question will help you have an informed conversation.

3. Research transportation alternatives

Before you ask for your loved one’s keys, come up with a plan for how they will manage without a car. Research bus or train routes near your parent’s home and the areas they go to the most and look into whether your community offers seniors a discounted fare.

If they need help getting to medical appointments, look for free, volunteer-run transportation options. Many nonprofits, like the American Cancer Society, offer free transportation and many churches offer rides to medical appointments as well.

If public transportation isn’t an option, ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft can be a convenient option. Consider getting your parent a smartphone (if they don’t have one already) and offer to ride along with them on a few trips so they can see how ridesharing works. If money is a concern for your parent, Uber allows you to add family members to your account, allowing you to help cover the cost.

Family and friends may also be able to fill in any transportation gaps. Consider picking a day of the week when you or another family member is available to drive your parent around to do errands and meet up with friends. Plus, with services like Amazon Prime and grocery and pharmaceutical delivery options, your parent can get almost everything they need mailed to them.

After researching all these options, you will be better equipped to respond to your parent’s claims that they have to drive.

4. Take the long-term approach

It takes time to get comfortable with the idea of a major lifestyle change, so don’t expect your parent to agree with you the first time you suggest they stop driving. Giving them some space between each conversation will allow them to consider the conversation and cool off.

It helps if you don’t wait until they’ve gotten into an accident to point out a decline in their driving capabilities. Whether it’s a new medical diagnosis or declining eyesight, start the conversation as soon as you see the first signs of aging. Start small by suggesting they give up driving long distances, in inclement weather, or at night.

After a period of time, it may make sense for your parents to drive only in familiar neighborhoods and rely on family members or public transportation some of the time. If they’re driving part-time already and know that they can get around without a car, it will likely be much easier to ask them to stop driving altogether.

5. Suggest they go to the DMV

Your word may not be enough to convince your parents to stop driving, and having a professional tell them that their skills are no longer up to par may be the push they need to use other transportation methods.

Suggest they take a refresher course for senior drivers through their local AAA or DMV. If they are confident that they can drive, they shouldn’t be worried about their ability to prove it.

In some states, a doctor can request that the DMV test a driver again if they have concerns about their ability to be safe behind the wheel. Consider talking to your parent’s doctor to see if they can ask the DMV to test your mom or dad as a new driver, writing test and all.

An occupational therapist can also evaluate your parent behind the wheel and offer a medical perspective on their ability to drive. They may suggest modifications to help them drive more safely — like larger mirrors, cushions, or hand pedals — or may recommend that your parent stop driving altogether.

6. Point out the consequences

The likelihood of dying as the result of a car accident sharply rises after the age of 65, mostly because older bodies can’t withstand hard impacts as easily as younger bodies can. Your parent likely knows that they can no longer bounce back from minor falls like they used to — make sure they know that car accidents are no different.

If you’re really struggling to get through to your parent, point out how their decision could affect others. For example, ask your parents if they feel confident in their abilities to drive their grandkids safely around town. They may be willing to risk their safety, but the thought of their grandkids getting hurt could bring them back to reality.

7. Always remember the point of your conversations

If you are getting impatient with how long your conversations are taking, or how stubborn your parent is acting, remember why you’re having these conversations in the first place — to keep them safe.

Finally, put yourself in your mom or dad’s shoes. When you get to be their age, how would you want your children to talk to you about your driving?

Originally published at on December 16, 2018.

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