How do you get an elderly person to stop driving? This is one of the most common questions among caregivers, and one of the toughest situations to handle. The short answer, you need to ask them at point-blank to stop driving. But it’s a delicate topic and emotional conversation that you may not feel prepared for – but can’t avoid. If you’ve recognized that your parent, spouse, or sibling needs to stop driving for safety reasons, let’s explore some ways to handle that conversation.
Understand Their Perspective
When preparing for a difficult conversation like this one, it’s important to anticipate their perspective and prepare responses for their concerns. That way you aren’t caught off guard or forced to backtrack.
First, it’s important to realize what driving represents. Driving is a symbol of freedom, control, and independence.
Having a vehicle to take you where you want or need to go on-demand offers the freedoms of movement, travel, and self-sufficiency. Conversely, not having the ability to drive feels like a restriction – creating a sense of forced confinement (the feeling of being stuck or trapped), the loss of control, and a dependence on others.
As our older loved ones start losing control of their health or body, having less control over other things in their life is an understandably terrifying prospect. This may cause them to react negatively or strongly toward your request to give it up. Remember that even if you start to feel bad or guilty, you’re doing this for their safety and the safety of others. You’re doing the right thing, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving
Before you approach them about your concerns, it’s useful to have a list of reasons prepared for why you believe their driving has become unsafe. Here are some common warning signs that your loved one’s driving has become unsafe:
- Dents or scratches. If their vehicle shows external and unexplained damage, that may be a sign that their driving has become hazardous. If you can, it may be worth checking with their insurance provider to see if their premium has gone up due to recently reported incidences.
- Strained or worsening vision. Vision is often one of the main reasons for the need to stop driving. If your loved one is straining to read signs or showing signs of difficulty seeing in other aspects of their life (or refusing to drive at night), it may be a sign they need to stop driving.
- Driving is now stressful or exhausting to them. Another warning sign may be the level of stress driving now brings. This could be a symptom that reveals they are getting more frequently lost, having a slower response time to unexpected stimuli, having close calls with accidents, or that they’re causing honking, frustration, or road rage among other drivers due to their driving style.
If you have a prepared list of problems you’ve noticed, it may be easier to convince them that this is a problem worth taking seriously. In all likelihood, they haven’t noticed these changes in themselves.
Offer Alternative Transportation Solutions
One of the biggest fears for seniors who lose their ability to drive is that they will be stuck, isolated, trapped, or dependent. A great way to dispel these fears is to offer alternative and realistic transportation options ahead of time.
- A coordinated schedule with nearby friends, family, or neighbors.
- A paid service that can be hired a few hours a week (Example: GoGoGrandparent – a service that allows seniors to request a ride or service easily with or without a smartphone from a vetted driver).
- Public transportation routes mapped out where available.
- Check with local churches or nonprofits for free transport or services with volunteers.
Showing them you’ve thought through their situation from their perspective can help to reduce the friction.
Start the Conversation with Empathy
A senior who is being asked to give up driving may immediately jump to the conclusion that you think they’re a bad driver and become defensive. To avoid this, approach the conversation with empathy.
How you can start the conversation:
“I know this is an awkward conversation [or sensitive subject], but we need to talk about it.”
You can then ease into a few reasons why you think it’s time to talk about it (bring up a few points from the list you put together earlier). Just be sure to reinforce the idea that this isn’t about them being a bad driver. Instead, it’s coming from a place of love and out of a desire to protect them.
One of the most important things is to remain calm, react with kindness, and be understanding that they may need time to adjust to this prospect. It may take multiple conversations to get them to turn over their keys. If, after several conversations, they are still unwilling to give up their driving, you can anonymously contact the DMV for suggestions or recommendations.
If you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC are here for you. As a caregiver, you’re faced with new challenges every day. The California Caregiver Resource Centers were created with you both in mind and at heart to be a free resource as you navigate the challenging role you’re in. We would love to connect you with your local Center, who can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer your questions, and explain how they can best support you.