When is it time to take away the car keys?

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If you’ve noticed concerning driving behavior from your aging parent or loved one, you may be wondering if it’s time to consider taking away their car keys.

According to Caring.com, there are a few major safety concerns to be aware of:

  1. Traffic violations and changes in insurance – No one wants to admit to being involved in traffic related incidents or accidents. However, there may be signs besides the obvious traffic ticket sitting on the counter. If your loved one brings up auto insurance changes or rate increases, this could be a sign that a driving infraction or accident has occurred.  
  2. Damage to the vehicle – Be sure to look around your loved one’s car for signs of damage. It’s normal for people to get some scratches and dents on their cars throughout ownership, but if you notice any serious or concerning damage that may indicate that an accident has occurred.  
  3. Behavior changes toward driving – Take advantage of opportunities to drive with your parent. Use the opportunity to observe their driving skills and behaviors. Look out for signs of anxiety, irritation or exhaustion from driving. Also pay attention to their ability to remember to fasten their seat belt, drive within the speed limit, follow traffic signals and be mindful of pedestrians and other motorists.

If any of these safety concerns are happening, it’s time to discuss giving up the keys.

Discussing giving up the keys

When it comes to having a discussion about taking away the keys it’s important to develop a plan.

Think of this topic as a continuing conversation that won’t necessarily resolve itself in one discussion. Remember for seniors, giving up the ability to drive can be potentially very difficult, especially since you’re asking your loved one to give up a piece of their freedom. Try sharing your concerns and positioning the conversation in a way that asks for their opinion. Starting off with a demand may make your loved one offended and closed off to the conversation.

Another potential way to bring up the subject is if your loved one has recently received a traffic violation or experienced an accident. This certainly lends itself to asking your parent more about how they are doing with their driving, and if it’s the right time to consider another mode of transportation.

Alternative solutions

While planning for the conversation, think about alternative transportation options that can keep your loved one safe, and able to retain their independence as much as possible. Does your city have a reliable bus or subway system that they feel comfortable with? Could family members be available to take shifts with weekly errands or appointments? Perhaps they would be more open to using a taxi or ride sharing system where they can safely get around, while keeping their freedom.  

For others, it may be time to consider an independent living community which can provide regularly scheduled transportation services for shopping, banking and worship.

When should you intervene?

If you feel your loved one is a safety risk to themselves or others on the road, it’s important to plan for and begin the discussion as soon as possible.

For additional resources and support, Keeping Us Safe is a national organization which provides workbooks and a driving self-assessment for seniors.

Lastly, if you are not successful in your attempts to stop your loved one from driving and their safety is in jeopardy, you can file an unsafe driver report with your state Department of Motor Vehicles. A representative from the DMV will contact your loved one and request a driving test and medical evaluation. Depending on the results of these evaluations, their license may be restricted or revoked.

Caregivers face many tough conversations and decisions. When it comes to driving, it’s best to take the situation seriously, plan ahead and foster open communication.