How can I take Mom's driver's license away if she has cognitive impairment?

9 answers | Last updated: Jan 26, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Mom, who is now 83, has had several fender benders, and is showing signs of forgetfulness that sounds not like normal aging but points to real cognitive issues. However, she insists that she's okay to drive. She still has her valid license, but we feel it's time for her to stop driving the car. How do we take her driver's license away, because she says that she can't live without her car?

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

There is no short answer to this problem, or a one-size fits all solution. Nothing defines personal freedom and independence in America, particularly among the elderly, as does the ability to come and go at will in one's own car.

And nothing defines the challenges and conflicts of realities of aging that involves diminishing reflexes, changes in eyesight, cognitive and memory loss issues, and side effects of prescription medicines as does the first indication that mom is a real threat to herself and others while she is driving. This epiphany can come in many forms, and none of them includes an admission by mom (or dad) that she no longer feels that she is a safe driver.

What's usually involved when considering mom's safety as a driver is one of several possibilities: an accident, the awareness of a very near-miss of an accident, her becoming disoriented or lost while driving, or being on the receiving end of a ticket for a traffic violation. While a sigh of relief on your part may be the price of having witnessed or heard about any of those events, it's not enough, and borders on denial of the underlying problem of mom's failing skills as a licensed driver.

Typically, mom will tell you that's she's perfectly okay to drive, but once you or another family member has made the decision to deny mom access to her car and have her driver's license revoked, the family wars and challenges begin. Here are the usual key issues that crop up:

· You feel guilty about impacting mom's freedom and independence · Mom feels that you're trying to control her life · You have no plan in place as to how to get mom to where she needs to be or go · Mom feels that she will become isolated from friends and activities · Mom may become depressed and/or very angry at you

There are ways in which you can approach this very thorny problem. First, talk with your mother to see if she too agrees that it may be time to give up driving. It's possible that mom has been hoping that you would take the initiative and help her make this tough decision, while also helping her plan for her needs for transportation. This however, is not the typical scenario, but it's certainly worth the effort if she happens to agree.

Let her know that you're concerned that she might injure another person. Push the envelope and ask her how she would feel if she had an accident that injured or killed the grandchild of another woman your mother's age. This borders on "dirty pool" but it's a real concern and may cause her think about it. Of course she'll say it would never happen to her, and you have to calmly state that it is possible, and that's why it's called an "accident." It wasn't planned "“ it just happened. And you know that she could never forgive herself if she hurt someone else. If you want to really compound the pressure without being directly confrontational you can even add, ""¦and mom, if something happens there could be lawsuits that could financially ruin you and take all your money." Again, not fair, but it's true and the goal here is to get mom out from behind the wheel of her or any other car.

Don't try to bully or argue you way to a rational conclusion by telling mom that she's an unsafe driver. That's a lose-lose situation and places you into serious conflict as a daughter and caring loved one. There are ways to achieve the goal without you becoming the enemy.

First, be sure that you have full support of family members, since mom may try to set up an "us versus them" situation. Also, it will more than likely be the local friends and family members upon whom mom will have to rely when she can no longer driver her own car.

Having done that, call mom's primary physician, discuss your concerns, and enlist his/her aid. In some states, physicians can send a letter to the state voicing concerns and suggesting that the driver, mom, be tested for safety as a licensed driver. This means that the testing to be approved for a driver's license must be more than just an eye exam and a fee at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. Ask to have mom tested as a new driver with the written exam, eye test and driving skills test as part of the process. Remember, the goal is to try to have mom fail the test, thereby making the State the bad guy in this situation.

There may also be other medical testing approaches. For instance, in southern Florida, there are two places where a physician can send a driver to be tested for motor skills, reflexes and cognitive skills as part of a very comprehensive driving test that includes a road test in a car other than the owners. This makes the test very thorough, and for a driver that is even moderately compromised in any aspect of the skill sets needed to drive safely, difficult to pass. The results of the testing, if less than satisfactory, are forwarded to the State Bureau of Motor Vehicles with a recommendation to recall the privileges of the person tested, and deny driving privileges or a driver's license. In Florida, the State honors those recommendations.

This process usually costs the family about $200 out pocket and is not covered under medical or car insurances. But if the goal is to take mom off the road for the good and safety of everyone in the areas where she drives, it's a lot less money than a hospital bill or lawsuit for having injured or killed another party.

Be sure you have a plan in place so you can answer all of mom's concerns when she asks, "How will I get to the doctors"¦hair dresser, supermarket, Canasta game, church"¦?" You have to be able to assuage her fears of being confined to her home. Check with your local senior services agencies to find out about public transportation, connector buses, and other available means of transportation that can keep mom engaged in life without threatening the safety of her life or others on the streets and highways of your community. And good luck!

Community Answers

John t answered...

The issue of maintaining a drivers license by someone with Alzheimer's/Dimentia can and does lead to serious problems within a family. My father-in-law demanded he be allowed to renew his license and continue driving even thou he did not know what day it was, what city he lived in, or who was president. The doctor would only state that "he should not be driving but there was nothing he could do about it." As the time to renew approached we created a hurdle my father-in-law could not over come to stop the renewing of his license without a family member being the "bad guy." You may laugh or think this is extreme but it worked and likely save someone's life. We created a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicle requesting that when he appeared for his eye test he also bring along a letter from his doctor showing he was not impaired by Alzheimer's/Dimentia. Obviously, no doctor would give him such a letter and he believed he could not get his license without it. He decided to abandon the renewal of the license. The benefit was the government was now the "bad guy" and there was no one in the family to blame.

Here is the letter that worked for us and feel to use whatever parts you need.

New York State Department Of Motor Vehicle 6 Empire State Plaza Albany, New York 12228

Richard S. B 22 H W, New York 121

RE: Driver's license renewal

Dear Mr. B_____:

In an effort to bring New York State in compliance with the National Traffic Safety Board's regulation section 2356.02 you will be required to bring with you at the time of your renewal a letter from your current physician stating your Alzheimer's/Dimentia will not impair you driving ability.

The intent of this new regulation is to make the highways of New York State safer for all those who use our public thru-fares.

If you are still in need of assistance feel free to email us at for more information about the changes to New York State regulations.


BARBARA J. FIALA New York State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles

Elephant's memory answered...

One possible solution to the question of "how do I get to the hairdresser"....etc. Sell the car & give up the insurance generates extra money. Put a credit card on file with a local car service, call them whenever the senior want to go somewhere. Pay them to wait. It's cheaper than owning a car & easier than calling a cab.

A fellow caregiver answered...

There are many services for elderly people's transport by people with full background checks. These services also do not allow tips for their services, and no payment of any type is given in the vehicle; it is all prepaid online by debit cards. Also, as a Christian, the intent to deceive and lie to someone you love is not acceptable; that type of practice is what Satan excels in.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Satan is a myth for most people and isn't helpful in anyway when dealing with a parent loosing their independents. They did the creative and kind thing in creating the "good lie" possibly saving their father and other lives as well as their relationship. It allowed their father to maintain his dignity and his relationship with his children. A win win.

Sunnysouth answered...

Currently in a civil war with brother and his wife over this. Refuses to acknowledge that his physical and mental capacity are not what they used to be. Even the doctors say to take away license. Father says he does not care what anyone says, or what may happen to the family. Does not care if he gets stopped by police. I am currently accused of controlling parents because I was the only one, except for my mom, in the family willing to do the difficult thing. Now I think there is a smear campaign going on. Have been told by dad - either turn over the keys again or I will take away everything in the will for you. And I was the only one getting anything for 15 years. He behavior is so irate that my mom is fearful and wants to lock her door. We are finally going to have to do what we never wanted to - call law enforcement to take the license permanently. Care giving is hard enough without family members in denial making your life miserable. Problem has been there for years.

Bugbug answered...

My grandmother never drove and didn't have a license her best friend did and the 2 of them went everywhere together. Her friend had children that lived out of sate and only visited for Christmas. My family lived across town from my grandmother and visited almost every day so we saw the deterioration of her friends driving abilities. We were concerned because my grandmother was a passenger in the car and so we tried to contact the family who would not listen to us. Finally she got into enough fender benders that the state revoke her license. She didn't tell her family or my grandmother and continue to drive anyways. She finally put the car through her hairdresser's front door by accidentally hitting the accelerator instead of the break. Luckily my grandmother was not in the car with her. My grandmothers friend ended up in the hospital for several weeks and never really recovered she passed away a year later from complications stemming from the broken hip she received in the accident. She was 75 years old. My grandmother lived to be 98 and regretted not backing us up when we attempted to get her friends license revoked for the rest of her life.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am starting to face this same situation and recently came upon this form which could be very helpful from my dmv website. You may find the same in your area. .....found at this website ......

Jalynnb27 answered...

If you get power of attny over their property, then you can just take away the car and sell it. I am in a position where my mom isn't that bad yet, yet when she drives, she drives down the middle of the road. So I took her away anyways, and told her to call the police if she has a problem with it. She won't call the police because she doesn't want to be embarrassed by the police being around her house LOL She still complains about driving, a year and a half later and thinks she can bully me to get her car back (she knows i won't give it to her, she's just creating drama and playing games--having an aging narcissist as your mother is never fun.) I just want the doctor to send a medical form into the DMV (check your DMV to see if your state has those) to revoke her license. So if their doctor has diagnosed them with Alzheimer's? Find that form and have them fill it out and send it in!