Taking Away the Keys: 10 Signs that it’s time

According to statistics, two distinct populations are responsible for most car crashes in the United States: teenage drivers and the elderly.  The elderly are far more likely to suffer or cause fatalities in these accidents (at the rate of 60-70 percent more), due to the physical side effects of aging.  These physical side effects include hearing loss, vision loss and impairment, as well as slower reaction times and dexterity due to medications, chronic illness and/or the natural process of growing older. Make no mistake; these issues will impact a person’s driving skills. The question is: “When?”

Some seniors are safe drivers well into their 70s and beyond, while some begin to lose their driving skills relatively early in the aging process. There is no magic age for taking away the keys from your aging parent.

While this subject is an uncomfortable topic to broach with your mom or dad, indeed, it is one that falls squarely on the shoulders of the already burdened sandwich generation.

Here are 10 signals indicating that adult children of the elderly should begin the process of taking their elder off the road:

  1. Recent dents, dings and scrapes to bumper, fender, side mirror, garage, mailbox, etc.
  2. Elder getting lost, even on familiar routes.
  3. Complaints and anger over other cars and pedestrians entering their driving path “out of nowhere,” or other close calls.
  4. Recent “at fault” accident/fender-bender, tickets or even warnings from law enforcement.
  5. Veering out of their lane and reduced ability to gauge turns, intersections, distance to merge, park, etc.
  6. Other drivers honking when this person is at the wheel.
  7. Reduced ability to drive at night or on the highway.
  8. Reduced driving time due to fear or nervousness.
  9. Medical conditions that affect their ability to drive safely, including loss of peripheral vision, reduced ability to turn head side to side, motor skills impairment, etc.
  10. Friends and family express concern about driving with your mom or dad.

If you recognize even one of these signs in your mom or dad, then it is time to implement driving limitations and to evaluate the probability that your parent needs to be removed from the road as a life-saving measure to themselves and other drivers and users of the road. Be prepared for resistance from your parent. Driving may represent their last link to mobility and self-sufficiency, and having this privilege taken away will likely feel like a very big loss — because it is.

Here are some steps to begin your approach:

  • Take a drive with your parent(s), making notes of any close calls, confusion on their part or concerns on yours. Do NOT mention any of them while in the car, as this will only make your mom or dad more nervous.  Better yet, hire a driver evaluation and training company.  A trained “passenger” will not only neutrally evaluate your parent’s driving prowess, but sometimes can provide supplementary education and/or mechanical devices which will allow your parent to continue driving safely and confidently.
  • Make a record of any recent incidents, traffic violations, events where your folks got lost while driving, etc.
  • Talk to your parent’s doctor about any medical condition or medications that make driving unsafe for them.
  • Research and set up accounts for your parents with taxi services, chauffer services, organizations that provide shuttle services for seniors, compassionate neighbors, meal, grocery and pharmacy delivery services, or even part-time care takers. Many municipalities offer door-to-door services to citizens who qualify.  Post these numbers clearly by their phone.
  • This may also be a time to consider a move to a residential community that offers transportation as a service.
  • Hold a compassionate dialogue with your mom and dad, and tell them that you feel it is no longer safe for them (or for others) with them at the wheel.   (Admittedly, not so easy to do.)  Better, call upon a specialized family/eldercare counselor to facilitate that conversation.
  • If all else fails and you feel the situation is truly dangerous, take away the keys and remove the car.

As always, I am here to offer support and guidance, and to help you and your family reach workable solutions through meaningful conversation and active listening. Please know that you can reach out to me during this stressful time.

All the best,
[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]

The IIHS has a list of state laws concerning elderly drivers at

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