1/28/2021 | By Rachel Marsh

As seniors age, many make adjustments in their lives to conform to the physical and mental changes that aging brings. From home adaptations that make getting around easier; to digital medication reminders; and more.

But driving? This crucial form of independence is one thing that many seniors have a hard time giving up – even if it’s far time that they let go of the wheel.

Losing the ability to drive safely often comes gradually, and can be hard to identify in one specific moment. But if you’re having doubts about your aging parents and their safety on the road – and think that, maybe, your parent or parents should stop driving altogether – we’ve got some ways to tell if it’s time to have that talk.

1. Getting into Minor Accidents 

We’re not talking about serious incidents, or even fender benders here. Keep an eye out on your parent’s car: do you notice more scratches than before? Are dings and dents popping up all the time?

Sure – small incidents like this aren’t necessarily red flags, and really only have a negative effect on the aesthetic of the vehicle. But they could indicate a sign of something more serious, like declining vision. That rear dent, for instance, may have occurred because your parent misjudged the distance to the mailbox; and these small scrapes may eventually turn into something much more serious.

2. Receiving Multiple Traffic Violations

Has your aging loved one received more traffic violations – be it tickets or just warnings – lately? According to AAA, “Tickets can predict the greatest risk for collision.” With a physical and mental decline, a driver can more easily misinterpret traffic signs, underestimate the speed of other cars, miss important cues, and so on.

And when the law notices your parent’s bad driving, so should you. But how much is cause for concern? AAA notes that receiving two or more traffic tickets in the past two years should put the family on alert.

3. Passengers Are Afraid While Riding in the Car

Plain and simple, if the car passengers feel unsafe while riding in the car with your parent – whether the driver misses signals, drives too fast, can’t keep up with traffic, swerves, the list goes on – that’s a major red flag to pay attention to.

Sometimes, in fact, aging and less confident drivers prefer to have a passenger in the car to assist with driving conditions and navigation; while there’s nothing wrong with having a travel companion, it shouldn’t be something the driver relies on – and is further proof that your parent or parents should stop driving.

4. Notice Your Parents’ Physical Capabilities

Of course, driving isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B. And while we all know that it requires mental awareness, physical proficiencies are vital for safe driving as well. So keep an eye out, not just on your parents’ driving habits and mental wellbeing, but their physical health too.

Pain or stiffness in the neck, for instance, may prevent a driver from checking blindspots while changing lanes or backing up. Stiff joints can inhibit proper turns.

And an especially significant indication includes the ability to navigate the gas and brake pedals efficiently. Though, yes, this seems obvious, AAA deems this one of the most common warning signs: “Drivers who lift their legs to move from the accelerator to the brake, rather than keeping a heel on the floor and pressing with the toes, may be signaling waning leg strength.” Especially dangerous, they further explain, is a driver who frequently (or even occasionally) confuses the gas and brake pedals.

Look Into Medications

Ask your parent or parents about their medications, whether temporary or ongoing. Do any of them have warnings not to drive while on specific medication? Some medicines cause drowsiness or lack of alertness, side effects that, surely, don’t mix with driving.

Provide Alternatives When You Think Your Parents Should Stop Driving

When and if you do decide that your parent or parents should stop driving, remember that the saga does not end here. They still need to get around on a daily basis, for appointments, outings, and – frankly – their own mental health.

It will likely be easier to convince your loved one to give up the keys if you come up with transportation alternatives. Every area of the country is different, of course, but do some research and see if any of these are offered in your area:

  • Public transportation. The most common and easy way to get around without driving is, of course, public transportation. If your aging loved one or loved ones have this option, help them figure out how to best navigate it. Ride it with them for the first few times as well, to ensure that they know how it’s used.
  • Cabs or ridesharing. Give your parents the phone number of a local cab company or teach them how to use ride sharing services like Uber or Lyft. In some cities, in fact, you can even request wheelchair assistance when booking.
  • Food and medication delivery. Look into companies that can bring groceries, medication, and meals straight to your loved ones’ door, to prevent them from having to travel for these particular items.
  • Reach out to the community. Enlist the help of neighbors and other people that are a part of your parents’ community; can someone from Sunday school take your mom to her weekly doctor’s appointments? Can your dad’s neighbor help him do his grocery shopping on the weekends?

There are also various community organizations that provide transportation to seniors; find some suggestions here, or do some research and see if it’s offered in your area.

And remember, it’s not just about your parent’s loss of independence; they may be a risk to other drivers on the road as well. So, in general, if you start to suspect that your aging parents should stop driving – you’re probably right.

Rachel Marsh

Award-winning writer Rachel Marsh has written for many different sites and publications on a variety of topics. She is the multimedia editor for Seniors Guide and works hard to make sure seniors and their families have the best information possible. When she’s not writing for work, she can be found writing for fun. Really!

Rachel Marsh