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.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Signs Your Aging Parents May Need to Stop Driving
- Can You Legally Stop Your Parents From Driving?
- Why Are Aging Parents Typically Against Giving Up Driving?
- Tips for Convincing Your Aging Parents to Stop Driving
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.
Signs Your Aging Parents May Need to Stop Driving
You know the signs that your aging parent needs to stop driving, but you ignore them because it can be too painful to deal with. Not only that, you might be at a loss as to what to do about it. The first step is to take a sober look at the signs that indicate that your aging parent is struggling with driving. Everyone has accidents and distracted moments, but there could be an underlying problem when these signs start to occur consistently.
Accidents don’t have to be full-blown to be a concern. You might notice some dents and dings that weren’t there before. When you ask about it your parents might deflect by saying that someone hit the car when they weren’t in it.
If your parents are diagnosed with dementia or a neurological disorder, you will need to pay close attention to driving skills. Dementia, in particular, can start to erode judgment and orientation over time. Due to the slow progression of the disease, it can be a challenge to pick up on deficits until they result in a serious accident.
Hitting curbs when turning
Hitting curbs when turning could indicate a vision problem due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, or the need for a new prescription. Eliminate those potential problems before assuming there is a permanent problem.
Distraction is a sign of poor concentration. Distracted driving can lead to accidents and getting lost. The best way to evaluate your parents' attention is to drive with them. Try and keep quiet to observe how they are getting to the destination and whether they can focus on traffic changes and signs.
Driving too fast or too slow
The only way to determine this (short of your parents getting traffic tickets) is to accompany them again on a drive. Notice the speed limit and if there is a significant departure from the legal limit.
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.
Why Are Aging Parents Typically Against Giving Up Driving?
It has been said that an aging parent giving up driving is a more challenging transition to make than moving to assisted living. You will likely encounter strong denial and anger if you suggest your parent give up driving. Understanding the reasons and meaning that driving has in someone’s life can help you intervene. Take a moment to think about your own driving and what it would be like if someone suggested you give it up.
Loss of independence
Driving equals independence. Going where you want when you want gives you the freedom to access almost everything that defines who you are and what you want. Going to the store, doctor’s visits, activities, church, and visits with friends and family are all now dependent on someone else.
Losing the ability to drive puts a complete halt to the freedom that your parent enjoyed. If they can’t access the activities they enjoy it could lead to increasing isolation, a decline in functioning, and loneliness.
Cost and challenge of replacement transportation
Stopping driving is one thing and finding a replacement is another. Who will assume this responsibility? Sometimes it is adult children or grandchildren who pitch in to drive and other times you may need to arrange alternative transportation. For a parent who has cognitive impairment, managing transportation might be too challenging.
Private transportation, whether through a company or a caregiving agency, will cost. Your parent may object to paying for rides, but there might be no choice if family members can’t provide all the needed transportation. For many older adults, accessing Uber, Lyft, or senior transportation is too complicated and overwhelming. If that is the case, someone else will have to manage the transportation schedule.
It is easy to underestimate the challenges and losses associated with aging. As independence starts to slip away, the loss of driving can be a blow to your parent’s self-esteem and self-worth. It is embarrassing to tell friends that they can no longer drive and admit that they can no longer manage their lives. Driving for many people is part of their identity.
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.
- “Report a Medically Impaired Driver.” Mass.gov, mass.gov.
- “Driver Safety.” AARP.org, aarpdriversafety.org.
- “Find a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist: A Searchable Database of OTs that Evaluate Driving.” American Occupational Therapy Association, aota.org.