Caring Currents

Is It Time For Your Parents To Give Up The Car Keys?

Last updated:

March 27, 2008

The answer is obvious in cases when a parent has serious vision problems, or advanced dementia. But if your parent is simply slowing down – becoming more forgetful, for example, or suffering from a chronic age-related condition – it's hard to determine if and when his driving slips from competent to hazardous to himself and others. No one wants to rush her parent off the road. Sure, it's better to be safe than sorry, but don't assume that just because your parent is over 80, he should no longer be driving. Experts agree that age alone shouldn’t be the determining factor in whether a person should give up the car keys. And it's not a decision to be taken lightly, since doing so often means slamming the door on mobility and independence. But the consequences of waiting too long to stop driving are even more terrible to contemplate. So what should you do? Driving experts have some advice: Go driving with your parent before you have reason to suspect he has a driving problem, if possible. This will give you a baseline perspective on your parent's driving abilities, so you'll be able to identify problems when they come up.

What to watch out for:

• Does your parent neglect to fasten his seat belt?

• Does he crane forward or show signs of discomfort while driving?

• Does he seem tense and preoccupied, or easily distracted?

• Does he fail to notice traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians, or other motorists?

• Does he often tailgate or drift toward the oncoming lane or into other lanes?

• Does he react slowly or with confusion in unexpected situations?

Even if your elderly parent is still driving safely, it's a good idea to initiate an ongoing discussion about driving. Ask your parent if he's had any driving problems, and how he'll handle life without a car, when the day comes. Help him find out about alternative transportation options in his area. These discussions will help your parent prepare emotionally and practically for giving up the car keys. Has your parent shown any worrisome signs when driving? Tell us: What's the scariest thing your parent has done behind the wheel?

Image by Flickr user CarbonNYC used under the Creative Commons attribution license.