When Should Mom Give Up The Car Keys?

This month my mom will be 88 years old. And sitting in the garage of her condo where she lives alone is her huge 2000 Cadillac in mint condition with only 50,000 miles on it.

“Mom,” I said, “how much are you driving your car?”

“I only drive to the grocery store.” Then silence. “And to the post office to mail you cookies, the ones you love.” More silence.

If you have older parents who still drive, you know that’s when it gets awkward. When you wonder, “Is this the right time to step in?” We want our parents to remain independent. But we also want them, and the people around them, to be safe.

As an article in the August issue of Psychiatric Times pointed out, there are 22 million older adults (78 percent) still driving with a valid driver’s license. And with 79.6 million baby boomers out there, those numbers are going to keep increasing.

We all know that with age, we react slower, see less well, and find it more challenging to multitask. Throw in the possibility of mild dementia and Parkinson’s disease and it’s not surprising that drivers older than 80 have the highest rate of accidents of every other group – except teenagers. So like many of you, I’ve got to deal with the car keys of both groups because I have a teenage son. But that’s another blog.

Now I’m not saying that every individual over a certain age should stop driving. Many are excellent drivers. But there are no standardized national guidelines for what constitutes a “dangerous” driver.

Next: Safety tips and helpful ways to assess your parent

So here are some ways you can assess your parents to decide if you should have the “car key talk” with them along with some things that can help them be as safe as possible:

  • Talk with their doctor about your parents’ vision, mental status and physical limitations. Ethical guidelines from the American Medical Association permit doctors to contact their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if they think a patient puts the public at risk.
  • Make sure their eyes are checked annually for vision changes, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. This helps prevent falls as well.
  • Ask your parent’s doctor about a test called the UFOV (Useful Field of View). This test is defined as “the area over which a person can extract information in a single glance without moving his or her head or eye.” The test isn’t perfect, but a 40 percent reduction suggests the driver is unsafe.
  • Refer them to a hospital-based occupational therapy program for a road test.
  • If possible, make sure their car has automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, and large mirrors.
  • Avoid high traffic areas and times of day, and avoid driving in bad weather.
  • Limit night driving.
  • If they need a hearing aid, make sure they use it when driving.
  • Use common sense. Do you feel safe when you drive with them? Would you feel comfortable letting them drive your child? Would you feel comfortable walking on the sidewalk near them or driving in the lane next to where they are driving?

The ramifications of “taking away the keys” are potentially great. Studies show that people who don’t drive are more likely to become isolated, have lower self-esteem, become depressed, and end up in a nursing home.

If your parent has stopped driving either voluntarily or involuntarily, there are two important things to prevent. The first is immobilization.

Older people need to shop, go to the doctor, the post office, the drugstore and much more. So help your parent find people to help them get around. It may demand more of you. But the money saved from not owning a car will provide some transportation money for taxis and other means. Many community centers have vans; churches and synagogues may be a source of volunteers; be creative – maybe the dog walker can also help with running an errand.

The second precaution is preventing isolation. No one wants to be stranded and that may be just how your parent feels. Isolation is one of the major causes of depression. Helping our parents get involved in hobbies, activities, and arranging visitors can help. It’s also important for you to stay in touch regularly.

From talking with my friends and patients, and also from my personal experience, I know how difficult this problem is. It’s not easy to take the cars keys from the ones who originally gave them to us. But it’s becoming a bigger issue as people live longer and we can’t ignore it.

Have you had similar issues with your parents? Please leave a comment and let me know. Tell me how you handled it.

Oh yes, and about my mother…

Last week she called me to say she had come to the decision that it was time for her to “hand up her keys.” Silence. Then she said, “I’m giving my car to your son.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I said. “Now I can stop worrying about you and start worrying about him!”

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Is It Time to Take Away the Car Keys?
12 Most Common Issues of Aging
Helping Aging Parents Without Taking Over


Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey5 years ago

There is a very good article in AARP that gives specific tell tale signs of when to quit driving.

The 3 I remember a. Stopping when there is no stop sign and of course b. running stop signs because you didn't see it or c. being confused at the traffic signal about when its time to turn.

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago

it's hard

Sheri P.
Sheri P5 years ago

that's great when someone realizes on their own that they need to give it up...

Barb C.
Barbara Conover5 years ago

taking the keys away from my dad, who by then had advanced Alzheimer's, was devastating for him and my mom. Living half a country away, I hadn't realized how bad he was nor that she was letting him drive so she was not house-bound. Once I visited, I was horrified. I was lucky-- their doctor was alarmed as well and derived a pseudo test for my dad (no structured test was available). I know it prevented my dad from killing himself and my mom (or worse someone else), but the psychological blow was crushing to him. And unfortunately his doctor did not know how to treat the psychological side of Alzheimer's. Still, I strongly advocate talking to your parent's doctor to help if a parent should not drive: get him/her to help. And do get some kind of transportation substitute!

Donna M.
Donna M5 years ago

Some ruthless car salesperson sold anew car to my father in law at age 88. They now have 5 years of car payments on top of it. So how do we broach the subject of him not driving anymore. He has not had an accident yet and is still in god health but is definitely slowing down. I won't let them drive my daughter anywhere anymore. If anyone has a good answer I am open to them.

Ellen G.
Ellen G5 years ago

I am 65 and I quit driving a few years ago. It was very difficult at first but with planning it can be done. I don't have anyone to drive me to the store so I use the handicap van. I use a power chair so I can run errands that are close. Fortunately I live in an area where there are a couple of stores and pharmacies withing distance. I quit driving because I realized that I was dangerous on the road. I would have moments where I spaced out and when I came out of it had to get my bearings to know where I was. I take many medications and have numerous medical issues. Fortunately there is the handicap van to take me to appointments, even to visit the kids who are close enough and do not drive. I live in an apartment that has minimal assistance provided. There is staff here in the case of anyone needing help. They also do chores that we are not able to do ourselves. In the event I can't get out they will pick up prescriptions as well as grocery shop once a week. I have accepted rides from other individuals who live here and still drive and prayed to get home safely, many are such horrid drivers I will never ride with them again. They refuse to give up driving and I worry that they will kill or maim some innocent person(s) before they give it up. Doctors should have more control over a persons ability to get behind the wheel as far to many have no common sense when it comes to this. Even if I didn't live in this apartment could find help, there are many organizations o

Annabel H.
Annabel H5 years ago

my father is 89 and still driving every day to his vegetable garden and hens, in fact twice a day he goes there.
He is almost deaf but won't wear a hearing aid, his eyesight is good and he is in good health for someone of 89 years young! But I won't go in the car with him because I consider him to be a dangerous driver now, he has crashed quite a few of his cars and I think he should stop driving but he won't listen to me or anyone of the family and he won't go near a doctor. He is a stubborn old mule,stuck in his ways and won't stop driving until he drops down dead! A typical Yorkshire man. At least he realises that he can't do long distances anymore, thats a start.

Milan L.
Milan L5 years ago

About 5 years ago, when my diabetes had already affected my eyesight to the point where I felt that I would not pass my annual eye test, I have voluntarily surrendered my Driving License. I gave our car and the keys to my son and in return he takes my wife and myself twice a week to any appointments and on shopping trips.

I pay for the running expenses and it still works out cheaper than calling a Taxi would be. And - except for the Unknown Taxi Driver - everybody is happy. And SAFE.

Teresa Cowley
Teresa Cowley5 years ago

I'm 65, and quit driving years ago. Luckily I have a daughter who does not mind driving me where I need to go.
I voluntarily quit driving because I have carpel tunnel in both wrists, and my hands would go numb on the steering wheel--not all the time, of course, but any "numb" is bad "numb".
Ive seen and heard of too many accidents where people who should have quit driving, did not (not always age-related).
I do feel for people who would rather not drive any more, yet have no other option. There isn't always public transportation in every city, and when there is, some of them aren't "safe" either.

Barb Hansen
Ba H5 years ago

it's just irresponsible to allow people to drive when they are 88 years old. What would happen if they killed someone? If your elderly mother is mailing you cookies, maybe it would benefit her to live closer to you so you could help her with her errands.