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At What Age Should You Consider Removing Your Loved One’s Ability to Drive?

Sept. 7, 2022

Older man sitting and resting his head on folded handsThis is always a tough issue to grapple with. On one hand, your elderly loved one’s ability to drive is essential to their sense of autonomy and removing it will directly affect their quality of life. However, on the other hand, statistics show that age decreases driving ability, and also makes the body more frail. To top this all off, elderly individuals don’t generally look in the mirror one day and realize that it’s time to lay down the keys. This is where you come in. 

Age affects driving ability in a myriad of ways. First, aging causes vision and hearing loss, which can pose a threat to your elderly loved one and others. Second, as the body ages, so does the mind--which affects decision-making and reflexes. Third, many seniors need medications daily, and many of those medications impair the senses. Fourth, many chronic diseases that are associated with aging impair the senses and reflexes. 

While many states have elderly driving laws in place that require more frequent recertifications or vision and hearing tests, many cases are left to people like you to decide. Accidents, failure to follow traffic laws, slow reactions, difficulty interpreting road notices, and repeat traffic violations are all signs that you may need to act in your loved one’s best interest by taking away the keys. No matter the good intent, this gesture will most likely not be met very warmly. 

When your elderly parents reach a certain age, you may begin to worry about their driving skills. You can talk to them and express your concerns, but sometimes it is better for everyone involved if you take the car keys away. If this is something that interests you, follow these steps: 

Driving is a complex task that requires a number of cognitive skills to be performed at the same time. In addition to vision, hearing and reaction time, drivers must be able to: 

  • Perform visual acuity tests (such as reading street signs) 

  • Understand what they see appropriately 

  • Follow traffic signals and signs 

  • Control their vehicle in various situations (braking quickly when an unexpected object appears in front of them) 

You should talk to them about your concerns. You can tell them you are worried about their safety, how much their driving has changed and if they feel safe driving. These conversations may be difficult for both of you, but this is a good opportunity to help your loved one make decisions on how to handle driving in the future. 

If you decide that it's time to take the keys away, then here are some steps to follow: 

  • Make sure your parents understand why you're doing this. If they don't understand, it could make things worse. 

  • Make sure they are comfortable with the plan. This is especially important if your parent was the one who wanted to get rid of their car in the first place, but sometimes it can be hard for an elderly person who has been driving for decades—even if they aren't comfortable driving anymore—to give up control over their own transportation. The last thing you want is them hating you because they feel like you're taking away their independence, so explain exactly what will happen and why. If possible, let them know that there will still be ways for them to use their car if they need or want to (for example: errands and other short trips). 

  • Make sure there are other ways for them to get around besides driving themselves (public transportation systems might be available where they currently live). They may initially resist using these options since they've been relying on their own vehicle all this time; however, if there are no other options available then maybe letting go will be easier than trying something new! 

Finally... 

Remember that as long as both parties agree upon a plan then there shouldn't be any problems whatsoever! 

If your parents can no longer get around safely and independently, the best action to take is to discuss the situation with them. You may find that they are happy to embrace a caregiver who can drive them to important appointments or even act as their driver for errands and other tasks. For those who have difficulty leaving the house, there are other options, including using taxi services or ride-sharing apps like Uber.  

It is important to know how well your parents can see while operating their vehicle. Are they able to stop and turn safely? Can they see in front of and behind their car? If you are worried that your elderly parent may not be able to drive safely, ask a friend or family member who has driven with them before to help assess how well they control their vehicle. Do they make safe stops? How long do they need to react in an emergency situation? If you feel that these assessments indicate that it would be unsafe for your elderly parent to continue driving, then it's time for action! 

Here are some things to watch for: 

  • Are they forgetting to turn on their car’s lights? 

  • Are they signaling turns properly? 

  • How well do they react when approaching traffic lights and signs? Do they stop for them or speed up, thinking that the light is about to change color? 

If your parent passes these tests, there are still other factors you need to consider before deciding about whether it’s time for them to give up their keys: 

It is important you consider your parent's emotional reaction as it will often be painful for them to stop driving. This decision can also have a large impact on their sense of self-worth and independence. Put yourself in your parent's shoes and try to understand how they feel about losing the ability to drive, which has likely been part of their life for many years. You may be putting away their life-long independence by taking away the keys from them, so think carefully about what is best for both parties involved before making this move. 

Once you've made the decision to take away the car keys from your elderly parents, it's best to discuss it with them first. They may not be aware of their declining driving skills and will be grateful for the opportunity to discuss this issue with someone who loves them. If you have already taken away the keys and your parent is struggling, consider arranging rides for them or hiring professional transportation services in order to keep everyone safe on the road! 

Having a compassionate and qualified Kennesaw elder law attorney by your side during this battle can save you from an immense amount of stress and heartache. As an experienced elder law attorney, I can assist you as you and your elderly loved ones navigate this troubled time. Give Jesse A. Block and the Block Law team a call today at (770) 387-4529, and let us help to restore you and your elderly loved one’s peace-of-mind.