How to talk to your aging parents about their driving

May 28, 2018 Providence Health Team

When you stop by your parents’ house, you see a deep gouge on the fender of their car.

“Mom,” you ask, “what happened?” 

“I’m not sure,” she says. “It was there when your father came back from the store.”

When you ask him, your dad can’t explain it. And again you wonder: Is it time for them to give up their car?

It’s one of the hardest things to talk about, for your parents and for you. But it’s important — for their safety, and the safety of everyone else on the road — to open the conversation.

A matter of life and death

As the Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age, more senior drivers than ever are on the roads — and more than ever are dying in traffic accidents.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 6,700 people aged 65 or older were killed in traffic accidents in 2016 — 18 percent of all traffic fatalities. The number has risen along with the number of older drivers. 

The magnitude of the problem has led to more difficult conversations between older drivers and their children or caregivers. It’s challenging because driving represents independence, and most people don’t want to surrender theirs. But is it time?

The NHTSA suggests a series of questions that can lead to an answer:

•Are there new dents on the older driver’s car?

•Does he or she get lost on familiar routes?

•Has he gotten a traffic ticket?

•Did she have a near-miss or a crash recently?

•Does he have a medical condition that interferes with his driving?

•Is she overwhelmed by road signs and markings when she drives?

•Does he take medication that might alter his ability to drive safely?

•Is she speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?

How to talk about driving

How you bring up the subject and lead the conversation will influence the way an older driver hears and responds to you. Here are some tips about how to talk about whether he or she should be driving:

Be respectful and gentle.

Listen carefully to the senior’s concerns and objections.

Don’t expect a resolution after a single conversation. Be willing to return to the subject after everybody has had a chance to think about it.

Don’t rush to a conclusion or impose your solution on an older driver. Instead practice reflective listening, saying, for example, “I understand you may worry that you would have to give up your classes/golf game/visits with friends.”

If your loved one will continue to drive, review these tips for older drivers for staying safe on the road., a resource for caregivers, has more suggestions about how to talk about whether an older person should keep driving. 

Finding alternate transportation

When it comes to helping an older person make the transition away from driving, you can have suggestions at your fingertips. Would it be practical to take a bus or other public transportation? Can your parents’ friends help by giving rides? Does ride-sharing make sense?

Providence St. Joseph Health knows this is an important subject. We have multiple resources to help people age in place without surrendering their freedom or burdening their relatives and friends. 

Optimal Aging from Providence, which operates in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington Counties in Oregon, helps seniors preserve their independence, including by providing transportation in collaboration with SafeRide. SafeRide is a digital platform that books medically qualified transport in less than a minute, sends text reminders on the day of the pickup, alerts when the vehicle is at the doorstep and monitors the ride as it happens.

Optimal Aging can also connect your family with trusted providers who can help with services like delivering meals or helping your loved one grocery shop.

The result is lower costs for seniors and health care systems while helping older people remain independent for longer. 

You can learn more about Optimal Aging and request a free consultation here. If you’d like to talk to a Providence provider about independence and aging, you can find one near you in our online directory. For more informative articles on senior health like this one, subscribe to our blog.

A resource for Alaska residents: The Disabled Driver's Evaluation Program is for people who have experienced an illness or injury that has impaired their cognitive, visual or motor skills.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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