July 5, 2022

Navigating Hard Conversations: How to Tell an Aging Loved One It’s Time to Stop Driving

Telling a loved one that it is time to stop driving is a hard conversation. Being able to drive oneself offers independence and freedom. Taking that independence away from an aging loved one may make them feel stuck or confined to their home. It may also make them feel like a burden as they will have to rely on others for transportation.

According to a mature drivers survey conducted by Caring.com, asking a loved one to stop driving was more challenging to discuss than topics like final wishes or selling a home. It is a sensitive but necessary conversation. Knowing when it is time to hang up the car keys is important to the safety of your aging loved one and others.

Senior woman holding car keys


7 Signs Your Loved One Should Stop Driving

If your loved one experiences the following, you should discuss their driving abilities:

  1. Difficulty following the speed limit – drives too fast or slow
  2. Delayed reaction times
  3. Easily loses sense of direction or gets lost
  4. Trouble focusing or easily distracted
  5. Struggling with spatial awareness like staying in traffic lanes
  6. Hits curbs in parking lots or when making turns
  7. You notice dents or scrapes on their vehicle

The decision to stop driving may not solely be due to aging. Your loved one may have a diagnosis that impairs vision, reaction time or coordination. They may also take medications that they should not drive while taking. You can reach out to their doctor to help you with this conversation.

How to Start the Conversation

No one wants to have to break the news that a loved one’s driving is putting their life and the lives of others at risk. There are a few ways to make the conversation go more smoothly.

  • Start the conversation early. Try not to spring the topic on them out of the blue. When you start to notice mild concerns, mention it to them. You can propose setting parameters such as only driving short distances and not driving at night. This will help them get adjusted to the idea of scaling back driving. If it is a high concern, scaling back is too high risk.
  • Show compassion. Since the topic is so sensitive, it is important to be understanding. Let your loved one know that you understand that this isn’t an easy decision. Listen to their concerns and acknowledge their feelings. Having compassion and remaining calm will help your loved one to understand your intentions.
  • Explain the why. Remind your loved one that it is not a punishment but a step to ensure their safety. Remind them how much you care for them and that their safety matters to you. Emphasize that it is also for the safety of others on the road. Car wrecks can have devastating consequences.
  • Visit the DMV. If the conversation is not going well, give them a chance to take a vision and driving test at the DMV. This helps to take the decision out of your hands if they fail the test. Many DMVs also offer refresher courses for senior drivers.
  • Offer transportation alternatives. Understandably, aging loved ones don’t want to feel trapped at home. Be clear that you and your family will provide transportation or rides for things that are important to them such as visiting friends, attending church or going to the grocery store. Have transportation alternatives planned before starting the conversation. Let them know that you value their independence and you will help them maintain it.

There are ways to help you and your loved one feel less burdened by the loss of their license. There are ride share apps such as Uber or Lyft, and some areas have strong public transportation options. Your loved one can have items such as groceries and medications delivered to their home through companies such as Instacart, Amazon and GoodRx.

Understand that your loved one may be frustrated with this conversation. It is important to be consistent and firm. Their safety and the safety of others depends on it.