How to Talk to Your Aging Parent About Driving

You may be like thousands of adult children and have an aging parent who very well should no longer be driving on public roadways. You may also be like many, many people and dread the prospect of having a conversation with your older mother or father about continuing to drive. Through this article, we provide you with some basic information about how to talk to your aging parent about continuing to drive. 

Issues That Prompt a Conversation About Driving With an Older Parent

At the outset, there are some issues or incidents that can prompt an adult child to recognize that the time has come to discuss driving with his or her parent. Examples of these issues or incidents include:

  • Parent has been in a car accident
  • Parent experienced a close call
  • Parent runs a red light
  • Received a ticket for a driving violation
  • Parent is speeding or driving too slow
  • Parent is having problems with memory loss
  • Parent takes medications that may affect driving, such as anti-anxiety drugs, narcotics, and sleeping pills
  • Parent is having problems with hearing or eyesight
  • Parent has a medical condition such as: 
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Arthritis
    • Cataracts
    • Diabetes
    • Glaucoma
    • Muscular degeneration
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Sleep apnea
    • Had a stroke

Specific Pointers for a Driving Conversation With an Aging Parent

In preparing to talk about continuing to drive with an elderly parent, a number of specific pointers should be borne in mind. These pointers can make this type of conversation easier to undertake. They also heighten the prospect for the conversation to be successful. 

Be prepared. Tell them why you’re concerned using the information you’ve gathered first-hand from others. Keep in mind that while you want to be prepared, you do not want to be accusatory. 

Be sensitive. Do not talk down to your parent. Your parent is still a fully-grown adult. You want to establish an environment of working with them and not dictating decisions about his or her life. Approach this difficult conversation with empathy and compassion.

Pick the right person. Whoever leads the conversation should be a close friend or family member whom the driver trusts and listens to with regularity. You may choose to have a one-on-one or group conversation. You know your parent well, so make choices that will best achieve a positive result and protect their dignity. Keep in mind that you may not be the best person to lead this conversation. 

Use the right phrasing. Using “I” statements will go over better than “you” statements, which can be interpreted as accusatory and result in defensive reactions. By way of example: “I’m concerned about your safety when you’re driving,” will be much better received than, “You’re no longer a safe driver.”

Use examples. If someone you know has recently stopped or limited their driving, suggest that your parent talk with them. This can be particularly helpful if this other person is happy with their decision and has had success using other forms of transportation. If no one comes to mind, you can find plenty of examples online and elsewhere.

Highlight alternatives. Your parent is likely to have understandable concerns about getting to appointments, running errands, and seeing family and friends if they don’t drive. Make sure you have detailed answers about alternative modes of transportation. Some of these alternatives are presented later in this article. 

Expect pushback. You certainly should be prepared for pushback from your mother or father about not driving any longer. Your parent may be defensive or dismissive of your concerns. All of this is understandable. You are suggesting that your mother or father make a significant life change. Pushback of this nature does not mean they haven’t heard you. They probably need time to think about it and let things sink in. At the very least, you’ve opened up a dialogue and begun the process of taking an important step to ensuring the safety of your mother or father and others.

Tests to Determine an Older Parent’s Driving Fitness

You are not alone when it comes to making a legitimate determination about your parent’s capacity to continue to drive. There are four types of driving fitness tests that can be considered when you have concerns about your parent being behind the wheel of a car any longer:

Physical exam. Your parent’s primary care physician can assess the overall fitness and health. They can also check for any changes in health that could affect driving.

Cognitive testing. If your parent is having memory problems or other issues that affect decision-making skills, a cognitive assessment can help to determine their driving safety skills.

Vision and hearing tests. Impairments in these areas do impact a person’s ability to drive safely. 

Driving evaluation. An objective third party, like an occupational therapist or driving rehabilitation specialist, can help evaluate an elderly driver’s skills. They can also go on a ride-along to see the driver in action and assess the safety of their driving.

Limited Driving May Be an Option

In some instances, limiting times when your parent drives may be a safe and appropriate option. Gaining agreement from a parent to not drive at certain times can be more palatable to a mother or father than stopping driving all together. It is important to stress that a limitation rather than a complete stop to driving is appropriate only when restrictive driving is safe for your parent and other people on the road.

Examples of limitations on driving for an older individual include:

  • Not driving at night
  • Not driving in inclemental or bad weather
  • Staying off highways
  • Staying off other busy roadways
  • Driving only on familiar routes
  • Driving only within a certain radius from home

In addition to these possible limitations, another way a parent’s driving can be restricted safely as opposed to stopped altogether is to get a mother or father to agree to motoring with the radio turned off and other distractions eliminated as well. 

Practical Solutions and Alternate Transportation Options

In many locations across the country, there is an array of different types of transportation alternatives available to a parent who is no longer driving. These include:

  • Transportation services, like Paratransit, that provides rides as needed for the disabled or the elderly
  • Taxis, or ride-share services like Lyft, Uber, and GoGo Grandparent, or other private transit organizations
  • County transportation services for seniors (contact your Area Agency on Aging and Disability for information about available local programs)
  • Setting up a grocery or food delivery service to help alleviate one of the reasons for driving
  • Working out a schedule to drive your senior family member yourself
  • Involve other family members in assisting in providing transport for your parent
  • Hiring a caretaker to assist with driving needs

While a dreaded conversation, in the end talking to your aging parent about continuing to drive is one of the more important discussions you will have with your mother of father. The pointers presented here are likely to make that discussion far easier and far more productive when all is said and done.