How to Talk With Mom, Dad About Giving Up The Keys
After a few scares as a passenger in your elderly parent’s car, you will begin mustering the courage to have the talk that adult children dread: persuading Mom or Pop to hand over the keys and stop driving.
You may hold off to avoid starting an argument or to forestall the pain of watching your beloved parent confront the decline in his or her skills. You’re asking the person who probably taught you how to drive to give up that power and freedom.
If you are avoiding the topic, however, then you should also be thinking about the potential tragedy you’re enabling: the growing possibility that your parent could be seriously injured or killed in an auto accident or could cause the same for another driver or a pedestrian.
In 2017, 58 drivers, 65 and older, died from auto accidents in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. That’s only one more life than those claimed the year before, but it is a 45 percent increase from 2010 when only 40 older drivers died. The statistics alone don’t point to solid conclusions about the safety of older drivers, but they are a grim reminder of what can happen.
Nationally, at least 6,764 of the drivers and passengers killed in traffic accidents in 2016 were 65 and older, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s about 18 percent of all road deaths. The agency estimates about 30 million U.S. drivers are elderly.
Know When to Be Concerned
NHTSA encourages families of older drivers to talk to them about stopping driving if they see any of the following things:
- New dents or scratches on the driver’s vehicle
- Receiving traffic tickets
- Recent accidents or close calls
- Being overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving
- Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason
- Medical advice to limit or stop driving for health reasons
- Taking medication that might affect driving safety
- Suffering from any illnesses that might affect driving skills.
The Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety, a project of the Washington, D.C. -based Roadway Safety Foundation, says that senior drivers have more fatalities per mile driven than any other age group except for teenagers. Younger drivers crash more, but older drivers’ crashes result in more fatalities. It emphasizes the need for adult children to initiate these conversations because elderly parents may not feel the courage to address the issue themselves.
Some Suggestions From Experts
The organization offers its tips for having that difficult conversation with your aging parent.
- Start talking about the issue before it becomes critical. Ask how he or she wants to respond when it becomes apparent they are no longer safe on the road. You can talk about it on a recurring basis.
- Observe your parent’s driving abilities. Is he or she able to follow traffic rules without being prompted? What about your parent’s ability to handle turns, change lanes, keep appropriate speeds and be aware of other traffic? Keeping notes may help you show why you are concerned.
- Consider other resources, such as talking to his or her physician, eye doctor, a police officer, elder law attorney, or elder care manager. You can also consult a driving rehabilitation specialist, who can evaluate his or her driving and then retrain or make suggestions such as wider mirrors. An independent adviser can make the process easier and effective for you and your parent.
- Be sure to be respectful and acknowledge how difficult the change is for your parent. You should provide specific reasons and examples of why you’re concerned: Point out the incidents you know about and limiting physical factors, such as vision loss, that can mean it’s time to give up driving.
- Focus on maintaining your parent’s independence and emphasize that you’re an ally for keeping it. Be aware of his or her transportation needs and figure out alternative ways to go places. Be ready with solutions for getting to the doctor’s office, social activities, and religious services. Having family members lined up to do the driving is one option. You may also consider hiring a driver on an as-needed basis or using community-based transportation or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft.
- Don’t gang up on your parent; avoid holding a family meeting and, instead, keep it on a one-to-one basis. If you’re not the one to do it, then pick another family member who can better talk to your parent about this difficult issue.
- Avoid emotional issues and argument. Don’t accuse your parent of being an unsafe driver or just dictate that he or she must stop driving immediately. Focus on your parent’s relative capability to drive and the actual limiting factors that make driving a problem. You can move the focus away from your parent by talking about what might happen to others if he or she caused an accident. Be ready to handle anger and denial with calmness and to resist provocations. Avoid raising your voice and getting sidetracked by other issues.
- Listen and understand your parent’s feelings. Let him or her vent their anger and opposition. Acknowledge their feelings; tell them that you know it’s upsetting and that you would feel the same way. Then return to the points you were making.
- Know when to stop and cool off. You can bring up the issue another time.
Local Information for Elderly Drivers and Their Families
In 2016, the Denver area saw a number of serious and deadly car accidents when elderly people were behind the wheel, according to reports by The Denver Post. Writer Colleen O’Connor interviewed regional experts on aging for advice.
Elderly people fear losing their independence and the ability to make decisions on their own, said Jill Eelkema of the Area Agency on Aging in Denver. Those considerations are important for everyone.
Eelkema recommends “Colorado’s Guide for Aging Drivers and Their Families” from Drive Smart Colorado, a partnership of Colorado Department of Transportation and major insurers. It says older drivers are living longer, and driving farther, than their predecessors and may outlive their ability to drive safely by seven to 10 years.
She also recommends the Denver-focused “Getting There Guide” from the Denver Regional Mobility & Access Council, which provides resources for anyone with mobility issues.
You can also get personal, detailed information about talking to elderly family members about driving by talking to a specialist on aging at the Denver Regional Council of Governments’ hotline, (303) 480-6700.
Angela Cortez, of Colorado’s AARP office, told The Post that families should start talking about the issue early on.
“Early conversations will enable you to begin to understand the meaning of driving for your parent. Be positive and reassuring that you support safe driving for a lifetime. By making driving a safe topic, you may find it easier to bring the topic up in the future, should you need to discuss limiting or stopping driving.”