Taking away an elderly parent’s driving privileges

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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Ron Kauffman

Senior Lifestyles


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 than does the first indication that mom or dad is a real threat to her/himself and others while driving. This epiphany can come in many forms, and none of them includes an admission by a parent that s/he no longer feels that she is a safe driver.

The aging process for all of us involves diminishing reflexes, changes in eyesight, cognitive and age-related memory loss issues, as well as the side effects of prescription medicines.

Some of the first indicators of a parent’s diminished driving abilities include: an accident, awareness of a very near-miss of an accident, becoming disoriented or lost while driving or receiving 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 your parent’s failing skills as a licensed driver.

One of the first things you need to do is be sure that you have full support of family members, since mom or dad 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 s/he will have to rely upon if driving is no longer an option.

Before taking the steps to what can become a very thorny problem, sit down and talk with your mom or dad to share your concerns out of love and their safety. Ask if s/he too agrees that it may be time to give up driving. It’s possible that your parent has been hoping that you would take the initiative and help her/him make this tough decision and help figure out alternatives for any needs for transportation. Having said that, understand that this is not the typical scenario, but it’s certainly worth the effort if s/he happens to agree.

Make your points by sharing your concerns that s/he might injure another person and ask how s/he would feel if s/he 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/him to think about it.

Don’t try to bully or argue your way to a rational conclusion by telling your mom or dad that s/he is 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.

Typically in this conversation, a parent will insist that s/he is perfectly okay to drive, but once you or another family member has made the decision to deny mom or dad access to their car and have his/ her driver’s license revoked, the family wars and challenges begin. Having had to do this with my mom, she may see you as the “enemy,” but it’s all part of a plan to keep a parent safe. Here are some of the usual key issues that also tend crop up:

  • You feel guilty about impacting mom’s freedom and independence
  • Mom/dad feels that you’re trying to control her/his life
  • You have no plan in place as to how to get them to where they need to be or go
  • Your parent feels that s/he will become isolated from friends and activities
  • Mom may become depressed and/or very angry at you

Be sure you have a plan in place so you can answer all of their concerns when asked, “How will I get to the doctors…hairdresser, 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 or dad engaged in life without threatening the safety of her life or others on the streets and highways of your community. And good luck!

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact them at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: drron561@gmail.com.