How to Discourage Aging Parents From Driving: 8 Tips

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and Certified Master Guardian

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There are few more challenging discussions to have than to try and convince your parent to stop driving. Most families dread the conversation, and many avoid talking about it until a crisis emerges. 

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Taking a proactive stance and holding a discussion with your parents before something happens is the safest and most ethical thing to do. You don’t want anyone to get hurt and feel responsible because you delayed taking steps to stop your parent from driving. Intervening early might reduce risk. If things have gone beyond this point, you might have to take more drastic action.

For a parent who has dementia, the process may be complicated by the fact that they don’t believe there is a problem. If the dementia is progressing and there are other safety concerns, you may want to consider obtaining guardianship.

Can You Legally Stop Your Parents From Driving?

The short answer to this question is that you cannot directly take legal action to stop your parent from driving. However, if you are your parent’s legal guardian, you may have some liability if they cause an injury during an accident. As the legal guardian, you have the authority to prevent your parent from driving depending on what the court order stipulates.

In the case where you are not the guardian, there are legal ways to stop a parent from driving, but the state determines this process based on where you live.

For example, in Massachusetts, there is a process to report a “medically impaired” driver. Virtually anyone can make this report, from a family member, health care provider, to a neighbor. 

The procedure differs from state to state, but in a situation where a parent is reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the DMV can require all or some of the following:

  • A written competency driving test
  • A driving evaluation
  • A hearing and vision test

Depending on the outcome of these evaluations, the state can revoke a person’s license. If you decide to remove your parent’s car or take the keys away without legal authority, this could be a legal gray area. It is preferable to go through the DMV and make the appropriate report. 

Tips for Convincing Your Aging Parents to Stop Driving

It is best to try and convince your parent, with logic and reason, to stop driving. This may or may not work, but you need to allow your parent to make an informed choice.

Giving them that opportunity respects their autonomy. Here are some tips and suggestions on how to encourage your parent to stop driving.

1. Evaluate your parent’s driving

Before talking with your parent about their driving, you will want to provide details for your concern regarding the safety of their driving. Taking several trips with your parent behind the wheel can give you some insight into their abilities.

Making a list of the concerns might include:

  • Getting lost or confusion about directions
  • Several traffic tickets
  • Accidents (evidence of these might be dents and damage to the car)
  • Difficulty discerning between the brake and accelerator
  • A significant delay in response time
  • Inappropriate speeds
  • Difficulty judging distance

2. Talk to your parent

The first step is to have a discussion. Be prepared for resistance or anything other than a positive outcome. You may also not solve everything in one discussion. Expect to have several meetings over time and involve other family members as needed.

Overall, you want to remember to be calm and reasonable, as being upset or angry may exacerbate the conversation and put your parent on the defensive.

Other talking tips include:

  • Discuss your concerns honestly. And explain in detail what they are.
  • Anticipate complete denial that there is any problem. This might make you feel like you are talking to an immovable wall, but stay firm and focused.
  • Explain that your concern is not only their safety but the safety of another person that may be seriously hurt or killed in an accident.
  • Respect your parent’s need to stay independent. Show empathy for their plight by acknowledging the great sacrifice they are making by giving up driving.
  • Be prepared to have multiple conversations over time. Your parent may need some time to think about the situation, and they may come around later.  

3. Ask someone else to intervene

Ask yourself, are you the best person to discuss driving safety with your parent? You may consider recruiting a sibling or someone close to your parent to talk with them. Another member of the family might have better success. It might also be better for all siblings to meet with your parent during these discussions.

An outside opinion, like a physician’s, may also help in this case. Physicians are well acquainted with being asked to talk with an aging parent about driving. Your aging parent might trust their doctor’s advice over yours. Your parent may think you are exaggerating their deficits or worrying too much.

A physician may have much better luck in convincing your parent to at least have a driving evaluation. The authority of a professional in these cases can be very successful. 

4. Recommend a driver’s safety class

If your parent is beginning to show signs of unsafe driving, recommend AARP’s Driver Safety class. The class can’t hurt, and it might help. It covers age-related changes and how those affect driving, how to reduce driver distractions, new safety features in cars, and how to handle various driving techniques to improve safety.

Taking this class will also give you and your parent information about driving deficits and areas of concern. If your parent refuses to take the course, proceed to the next step, and get a driving evaluation if you can. 

5. Discuss a driving evaluation

A driving evaluation is an objective assessment of driving ability and safety. Your parent may or may not be willing to do this. In some cases, a parent will agree because they have full confidence in their driving ability. It can be a shock to get the feedback that they have failed the evaluation. 

If your parent agrees to a driving evaluation, one place to get this done is through the American Occupational Therapy Association. Start by taking your parent to their doctor, who can then write an order for the evaluation. At that same visit, you can ask about any other medical issues that could be impairing your parent’s driving ability.

If the evaluation result is that your parent should not be driving, they may not accept the findings. At that point, you do have a professional evaluation in hand to report to the DMV if you take that route.

6. Recommend safer driving techniques

If your parent refuses to have a professional evaluation, and you have no other recourse, make some driving suggestions. These might reduce risk. You may want to recommend a complete medical exam to rule out medication complications, eyesight issues, or other potential reversible conditions. Another idea is to suggest driving only during the day, never at night when it is harder to see.

If they prefer to drive without GPS, plan driving routes and go over those with your parent. Help them to find optional directions that avoid highways or freeways. In addition, if you can do so, buy a car with safety features like a backup camera, collision alerts, and traction control.

7. Have alternatives

Asking your parent not to drive has far-reaching consequences. Take a moment to think about replacing all of the transportation trips that they take each day. Resist the temptation to judge what is valuable to your parent. Your parent’s weekly trip to the cafe to have coffee with friends could be the highlight of their week.

Have some transportation alternatives handy to suggest to your parent so they feel like they can retain their autonomy and independence. These are some possible replacements to consider:

  • Hiring a private caregiver. A personal caregiver can provide transportation to doctor’s appointments, shopping, and any other place your parent wants to go. Recruit family members. Asking family members to pitch in has several advantages. If you take your parent to a doctor’s appointment, you get the additional benefit of getting valuable medical information.
  • Use Lyft or Uber. Both Lyft and Uber are catering more to seniors. If there is no other way to get your parent to a critical appointment, use one of these services in a pinch. 
  • Ask church members to help. If your parent goes to church, ask members if someone could provide transportation each week.

8. Make a report to the DMV

If all else fails, you or someone else can make a report to the DMV. This step is where most people falter, and with good reason. Regardless of who makes the report, your parent could lose all trust in that person. That is why some families resort to taking matters into their own hands by disabling the car or removing the keys. 

Disabling or removing the car is a personal and ethical decision that you and your family alone have to decide. Making a complaint to the DMV is also problematic. Should your parent find out it was you that filed the report, it could seriously damage your relationship.

Stopping Aging Parents From Driving

It can feel really demoralizing for your parent to see that their driving has become unsafe, and it may make you feel worried as well. Having an open and honest conversation with your parent about the risks and potential pitfalls of unsafe driving as they age can be one of the most important conversations you may have with them.

Our tips will give you a path forward to stop your parent from driving while maintaining your relationship’s integrity. Show respect and empathy through the process. In many cases, with time, your parent will come to accept that this was the right thing to do.

If you're looking for more help on taking care of your aging parents, read our guides on transportation for aging adults and how they can get help going to doctor's appointments.


Sources

  1. “Report a Medically Impaired Driver.” Mass.gov, www.mass.gov/how-to/report-a-medically-impaired-driver
  2. “Driver Safety.” AARP.org, www.aarpdriversafety.org/
  3. “Find a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist: A Searchable Database of OTs that Evaluate Driving.” American Occupational Therapy Association, www.aota.org/Practice/Productive-Aging/Driving/driving-specialists-directory-search.aspx 
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