Relinquishing the keys is difficult for any adult to do, so how do you ease your parent out of the driver’s seat? It is particularly difficult in the U.S. because driving in America is synonymous with freedom and adulthood. This is especially true for anyone over 50. Giving up driving is an emotional battle your parent is going to struggle with and has to come to terms with on their own. So how can you help?

Easing your parent out of the driver’s seat: Have a plan

First understand the gravity of the decision. Take a moment and plan your own life without a car for one month. Ignore getting back and forth to work, for now. Think about all the other errands you run with your car and social events you attend.

  • man standing in roadHow would you get to the doctor, the grocery store, the gym, or meet with your friends on Friday night?
  • Would you have to depend on friends or relatives to drive you?
  • Could you depend on them to drive you when you need to be driven or would you have to rearrange your schedule to make it more convenient for them?
  • Do you have access to public transportation?
  • How much would Uber or a taxi cost you for a month’s worth of rides?
  • How far ahead of time do you have to plan to get a ride?  

As you think through this exercise, pay attention to your emotions. Do you feel trapped? Constrained? Guilty that you would have ask people to take you places? Worried or nervous about such dependency on others? You probably feel many of these emotions. How would you work through them so you were okay with not driving?

Complete this same exercise only do it for your parent. How would your parent get where he needs to go should he no longer have a car?  Only now it isn’t just for a month. Likely a plan is needed for years into the future.

Easing your parent out of the driver’s seat: Understanding what driving means

older adult happy drivingNext, understand what driving means to your parent. Is driving merely a function for them; a means to get from one place to another? Is it their social connection to friends and events? Is it about freedom and independence? Is it used as an outlet for them to care for others by volunteering or picking up the grandkids from school? Is it a status symbol? Do they love owning and taking care of a car? Do they simply love the act of driving?

Understanding what having a car and driving means to your parent is important. If the car goes away the feelings associated with having a car will not. Finding methods to fill the needs and emotions of having a car is essential to lessening the reality of losing a car and driving privileges.

Easing your parent out of the driver’s seat: Have frequent discussions about cars and driving

older adult washing carOne of the ways to discover what driving means to your parent is to have frequent discussions about cars and driving. What do they think about cars? Other drivers? The thought of not having a car? Alternate forms of transportation? Driving at night, on busy streets, or in bad weather? These discussions will give you insight into what your parent enjoys and dislikes about driving. This information can be useful should you need to have discussions about giving up or restricting driving activities. Having a good understanding of what driving means to your parent can go a long way in helping you ease your parent out of the driving seat.

Also keep in mind that neither age nor health have anything to do with whether your parent should give up the keys. The only factor is whether your parent can drive safely on the roads. The only way to know this is through observation, which means you need to spend time with your parent as a passenger.

Easing your parent out of the driver’s seat: Spend time observing your parent’s driving skills

older man with passengerMake many opportunities for your parent to be the driver and you the passenger. Observation cannot be a one time or occasional activity if you want to accurately observe your parent’s driving skills.

Your role as a frequent passenger should begin long before you suspect any deterioration in your parent’s driving skill.  Setting up the role of your parent as driver can be as simple as suggesting weekly Sunday sightseeing drives or other outings. If you each live in distant towns from one another, make plans to visit on a regular basis and insist that your parent be the driver during that time.

Observing your parent’s driving skill is very important. It is also essential not to criticize your parent’s driving while he is driving. Doing so creates a dangerous situation where his attention is not fully on the road. Additionally it is confrontational and can lead to hurt feelings, nervousness and suspicion of your motives for being a passenger. Instead make note of things you find disturbing and enter it into a journal later. Record the date, time, weather, and road conditions. Write down what concerned you about the situation you observed. Over time you will be able to see if there is a pattern. Are your parent’s driving skills deteriorating or are you just observing errors every driver makes from time to time?

If there is a pattern then what is it? Do the incidents tend to happen at night? Do the incidents tend to occur when traffic is heavy? Was weather a contributing factor? What concessions or tactics can be employed to reduce driving times or areas of driving which your parent might find challenging. When was the last time they had an eye exam? Are there any medications that could be interfering with your parent’s ability to drive? Look for a solution to keep your parent (and others on the road) safe, and one that does not put your parent in a position of having to give up driving entirely.

Easing your parent out of the driver’s seat: How and when to have a serious discussion

Having frequent discussions about cars and driving, along with observing you parent’s driving skills, will provide you with a solid foundation for more serious discussions should they be needed. Good reasons to have a more serious discussion about driving include if your parent is recovering from an illness or injury or has recently changed medications. Frequent tickets, car crashes or near misses or getting lost while driving are other reasons to discuss your parent’s plans for driving in the future. If you have observed near misses or confusion during your observations these can be the starting point for the discussion.

disucssion with parentSerious conversations should always occur in a calm and comfortable environment. Remember it is as important to listen as it is to talk. Focus in on a single incident or a type of incidence rather than throwing your entire journal at them as evidence.

Maintain and enhance your parent’s self-esteem during the discussion and ask your parent for help in solving the problem. Keep in mind the enormity of emotion attached to driving and the loss of independence that giving it up means.

Come with solutions to address concerns. Give your parent some time to accept the facts and get used to the idea. You may have brought ideas to the table that he has not thought about.

Having a serious discussion with your parent about giving up or restricting driving is never easy. However, starting early with casual conversations and frequent observations of your parent’s driving skill will go a long way to making it easier.

You may also want to read Distracted Driving and the Elderly