Why Giving up the Car Keys Is Such a Loaded Issue

How to Help an Older Adult Who Has to Stop Driving

Giving up the car keys is a major milestone in a person's life, and it's important not to underestimate how devastating it can be. You'll be better prepared to help older loved ones face this life change if you know what to expect.

Emotional issues

Since driving is associated with maturity, independence, and power in our culture, it makes sense that giving it up can trigger deep fear -- and resistance. For most people, relinquishing the car keys will mean:

  • Loss of control and autonomy
  • Increase in dependency
  • Loss of ability to participate in activities they enjoy
  • Increased social isolation
  • Loss of the link to their past that driving provides

These aren't irrational fears but very real concerns for seniors who can no longer drive. It's important to try to put yourself in their place and imagine how you would manage if, for example, you couldn't use your car for the next week. How would you buy groceries, visit friends, get to your doctors' appointments? Now imagine being told that you could never drive again. Understanding your loved ones' experience will help you support them as they make this difficult transition and aid you in helping them tap into resources that will make giving up driving easier.

Practical issues

Giving up the car keys is likely to create formidable practical problems -- for everyone involved -- concerning:


  • Housing. Is their current home practical and safe without a car, or will they have to move?
  • Shopping. Can they walk to the grocery store, or are there alternative forms of transportation available?
  • Physicians and other caregivers. Will they be able to get to their healthcare appointments without a car?
  • Community. How will they see friends, engage in activities, and pursue other interests? Do they have friends nearby?
  • Transportation options. What are the public transportation options available to them? Is senior transportation or paratransit available in their community? Are there relatives, neighbors, or friends who could drive them to the store or to doctors' appointments, at a reasonable cost?

Anticipate the practical problems that giving up driving is likely to involve, and you and others who care for them will be better able to take concrete steps to address any issues.

Connie Matthiessen

Constance (Connie) Matthiessen, senior editor, has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting and has written for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, BabyCenter. See full bio