Is It Time to Take Away The Car Keys?

By Marlo Sollitto, contributing editor

At some time you will feel concern or even fear that your parents should no longer drive an automobile.

This is one of the most important deliberations, considerations and possible actions you will probably face as the family caregiver.

A person’s age is not and should not be the reason for taking away the car keys. There are people in their 80s and 90s who hold licenses and drive actively and safely, while there are others in their 50s and 60s who are dangers to themselves and others when behind the wheel. The most driving-accident-prone Americans are those aged 15 through 19.

Physical and mental condition and ability are the first factors to consider.

Vision: Conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can hamper driving ability. Your parent’s optometrist or ophthalmologist can identify vision problems, limitations, concerns and cautions. It is possible that some limitation in vision can be accommodated by not driving at dusk or night. Some conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma, can be corrected surgically. If your mom or dad wears glasses, schedule an annual eye and vision examination.

Physical ability: Driving takes dexterity, ability and strength in both arms and legs/feet to control the vehicle at all times. Consider any physical limitations. Consider, too, if he or she has shrunk a bit in physical size, where the solution may be to move the driver’s seat forward and upward for both better control and vision over the hood of the car, and/or adding a pillow.

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Physical activity: Mature adult drivers die in auto accidents at a rate higher than other age bracket because, at home, many do little or no exercise, not even a daily walk outside. Therefore, if your parent currently does no physical activity to maintain or build strength, agility and aerobic ability, this should be a concern. Importantly, it is probably correctable by introducing him or her to less television time and more physical activity. (The Importance of Exercise for Elderly)

Diseases: Patients with Alzheimer’s disease can become disoriented almost anywhere, and a severe diabetic may fall into a coma. The parent’s physician can advise of such possible problems and risks. But, don’t assume that your parent has Alzheimer’s if he or she forgets momentarily the location of a wallet, purse or newspaper.

Medications: Prescription drugs are chemicals designed to produce specific and desired changes or functions within the body. But, as in the law of physics, for every action there is a reaction. That reaction may be drowsiness and/or a slowing of the person’s reaction time. In the field of medicine these are identified as side effects and may effect, even seriously, a person’s ability to drive.

A patient taking several different prescription drugs, particularly if they are prescribed by different doctors who don’t have updated knowledge of other drugs being taken, may have even more serious side effects as each of the drugs creates its own side effects plus conflict with other drugs to cause even worse reactions. The latter is identified as polypharmacy.

Your parent’s physician(s) can advise of the side effects of each drug plus the added conflicts through polypharmacy. You may also take all the prescription containers to a friendly pharmacist who can quickly do a computer-based analysis.

The American Medical Association has published a detailed report and recommendation to all of its physician members that they assist caregivers, answer their questions, and present their recommendations regarding the elder’s physical and medical conditions. The report also recommends that the physician be actively involved in counseling the patient to hang up the car keys.

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Here are some hints for determining your mom or dad’s ability to drive:

Ride along: Take a ride or three with your parent and observe his or her physical ability in controlling the vehicle, staying within the lane, how turns are handled, the driving speed, ability to scan from left to right, any visual susceptibility to glare, and for any possible confusion in traffic. Do your observations simply, without nagging or distraction. Make notes upon return, for you may need to share them with an expert.

Check the vehicle: Periodically and without fanfare, check the outside of the car for any possible dents or scrapes.

Accompany your parent at least once to every medical specialist and service or treatment center and, and have him or her sign a release of confidentiality form naming you as a relative with whom they can share any and all medical and mental information without their violating federal confidentiality laws. If your relative is on Medicare, you can check the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements he or she receives after each medical visit or payment. This will ensure that you are aware of every one and service involved medically. These steps will guarantee that you can ask questions and express concerns privately as well as invoke professional assistance.

Research other available transportation for if and when mom or dad must quit driving. A call to the local Area Agency on Aging can learn about Dial-A-Ride, public transit, specialized transit (door-to-door service typically by minibuses) and even volunteers who provide chauffeur service. And talk to your siblings, children and other relatives to be volunteer drivers when in need. (6 Tips to go Car Free)

If you determine that mom or dad is still capable of driving, suggest they enroll in a Mature Driving course. Such enrollment may even qualify your parent for a discount on auto insurance.

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Here is why you should not jump to a decision or conclusion that mom or dad should no longer drive.

Taking the car keys removes the parent’s independence, the ability to drive to the market or to meet friends for coffee, to church and the senior center, the library or to visit friends. The experience can be traumatic. (What to Do If Mom or Dad Won’t Give up The Keys)

As the caregiver, you may also have to deal with other relatives who may be too quickly judgmental and even emphatic that the keys must be taken.

Involve mom or dad in the consideration and decision. You may find a positive reaction when talking candidly with them, and they will understand your care and concern for their safety.

If you feel that it is time for them to hand over the keys, recognize that you may run into resistance. This is understandable. However, if that is the case, there are several ways to legally revoke your loved one’s license. You just have to find a tactful, loving way to approach this topic.

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Yvette S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Being of an age where I can see the day coming my adult children will feel compelled to see things differently than I do about my independence I hope I will have the wisdom to know when something is unwise to do, and that it endangers myself and/or others. Saying that I am not sure I will be the best judge of that in another 10 years, so my children and I have begun a discussion about when.......for so many things.

jennifer curtis
jennifer curtis4 years ago

i feel like the time to take away an older person keys depends on their ability to drive and obey the rules of the road. you know like drive too slow on the roads etc.. we had to take the keys away from my dad due to the fact he would get lost and forget where he was going. we have lived in our town since 1982 and it would take him 2 hrs to go to places it would normally take 10 minutes.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

I got off lucky on this both of my parents came to this decision on their own long before we needed to make the decision and my inlaws it came to an abrupt point where they realized that they would not drive again. I can see how this can be a real problem for some people because Parents still need toget around and families may not have all the recorses available to them that we do. I encourage people facing this problem to look for public transportation there are programs that will pick them up at home and take them to DR or store for a reasonable price

Laure H.
Laure H.4 years ago

As the population ages, there are now even better reasons to improve our public transportation systems. One local (subsidized) senior housing facility has transportation buses available a few times a week, so that residents can get to an from the doctor, shops, social events, libraries, etc. It would be awesome if the budget could be arranged to offer this service at least once a week at all senior facilities (using the buses/vans on different days at different facilities). Using this model, public transportation could be offered in the suburbs much more affordably - even if a bus only did rounds once or twice a week, this could also help homemakers/homeworkers/two-parent/single-wage-earner families decrease their reliance on gasoline, or even a second (or in some cases, even one) vehicle.

Maryann C.
Maryann C.4 years ago

My Grandmother was in her 90's when she quit driving. She only had one traffic ticket for running a stop sign. Nobody would ride with her she had a lead foot. She put herself in a nursing home. She was very coherent. She died at 102 yrs old. We all miss her dearly. My Aunt is in her 90's she doesn't drive it was her choice. She still has her car she will not sell it. Her daughter and a friend drives her wherever she needs to go. I do know other elderly people who shouldn't be driving this is difficult situation to give up their independence. They are risking their lives and others on the roads.

Carol B.
Carol Burk4 years ago

Driving tests, both theory and practice, are an invaluable help in this. AARP has such a test for older drivers, and the local driver's license place gives practical driving tests for older people. The tests can be done at any time, but after age 75, perhaps, it could be important to check things out. I know some who have done it, not for their own reassurance, but because their insurance required it after a certain age.

Maureen L.
Maureen Leibich4 years ago

At one point in time, we wanted my father to stop driving. For years, we had been afraid to ride with him. He had a very bad heart condition. The thing that really scared us all, however, was the abdominal aneurysm he had. When he was lying on the sofa, resting, you could see it pulsing. When we tried to get him to quit driving because of this, he said he knew the risk he was taking. When we stated that no one else on the road knew the risk, he had no answer. My sister talked to his doctor, and the doctor was going to tell him he could not drive anymore at his next visit. He never made it. He died before that. Fortunately, he did not have an accident and kill anyone. I only hope and pray, when I reach the point of not being safe on the road anymore, I will be able to give up without a fight.

Shiela Baudendistel

It always gripes me when people suggest that others can take public transportation. Not all of us live in an area where that is an option. We have NO public transportation...not even a cab. So when you take the keys away, the person has to rely on friends and family. You would be surprised to know how unavailable they are when you need a ride to the store or Dr. sad..

Dominic C.
Dominic C.4 years ago

This is again a debate about analogue versus digital. We always need to be cautious about this divide because if we take away car that some sort of fail safe system to prevent us from being victims. As long as we have our keys we can always override the system.

Laurie D.
Laurie D.4 years ago

Perhaps th best solution would be to have drivers tests yearsly or even every 6 months for those over a certain age. However, I'm not sure what age would be a good place to start. I have a friend who is in her early 60's and you couldn't PAY me enough to ride with her. I have another friend in her 70's who does just fine. I have another friend who is less than 35 who suffers MS and seizures and still drives. Where would we start???