Is Mom Still Capable of Driving?

elderly driverYour mother has driven a car safely for 40, maybe 50, years. She prides herself on her driving skill and values the independence it affords her. But as the birthdays pile on, your concern for her safety behind the wheel grows. She hasn’t had an accident … yet … but you have reason to suspect that her eyes aren’t what they used to be.

When is the right time to have that conversation as to when Mom should stop driving?

According to the experts, the best answer is now, before her driving skills begin to noticeably decline—when safety becomes a life-or-death issue and emotions are running high. So, yes, the sooner you have that talk, the better, but don’t broach the subject unprepared.

Some questions you need to think about first:

  • Who should do the talking? A Hartford/MIT survey found that 50% of married drivers prefer to hear about driving concerns from their spouses. Doctors are a close second, followed by adult children. Most older drivers living alone prefer to hear first from their doctors, followed by adult children, close friends or other supportive helpers.

Preference for adult children breaking the ice increases when drivers are over 70.

  • What should I know before initiating the conversation? Know the warning signs of potential driving problems. Is your relative easily distracted while driving? Has parking become erratic? Is the driver less confident or does he fail to notice traffic activity to the right or left? Are there signs of scraping on the car, fence, or mailbox? These are just a few of the signs. Try to observe the driver over time to see if troublesome patterns emerge.
  • Should I consult my relative’s doctor beforehand? It’s advisable to consult a physician to determine what information you need to provide, given the person’s specific vision issues.
  • What about conversation starters? Are there especially appropriate times to break the ice? While it’s best not to wait for a serious accident, obviously, 50 percent of older drivers surveyed reported being more open to a discussion about driving safety after a bad accident. Minor scrapes and near misses are also opportunities to broach the subject. You could also express concern over a new medicine your parent may be taking and how that might affect driving. You may have even noticed that the driver has taken steps on his or her own – cutting out night driving, for instance. Use this: “Dad, I’m glad you’ve decided to cut back on night driving ….”
  • What do I do if the person reacts badly? It’s very possible that your older relative agrees with your assessment that driving is no longer safe and will have to stop. That won’t necessarily make the idea easier to hear or deal with. Nearly a quarter of older adults report feeling depressed by this conversation; 10% said they felt anger. Remember, though, that the cause for these feelings is the message, not the messenger. The important thing is remain calm and respectful, and be prepared to have several conversations before achieving your goal. Whatever strategy you ultimately choose, don’t let fear or guilt prevent you from following through.

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About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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