Taking the Car Keys

One of the most difficult experiences in a senior’s life is when their car keys are taken away because they can no longer safely drive. They feel a tremendous loss of personal independence, and connection to the outside world. Here are several factors to consider when faced with helping an elderly loved one face the loss of driving privileges.

Factors to Think About Before Taking the Car Keys

1. Assess their recent driving history: have they had multiple accidents — sometimes you can tell by noticing dents in the fenders. Ask others who have ridden with them for an opinion of their driving skills.

2. Be compassionate and receptive to what the senior driver may say when you broach this topic. It is a very difficult subject, but they may even express their own concerns about driving safety which can open the door to suggestions and a plan of action.

3. Involve their primary care physician. Ask the doctor to review the medications being taken. They may see there are contradictions, overdoses or drug duplications, or even illnesses that may impact safe driving ability. Continuous driving under these circumstances can be dangerous to them and to others.

Often a senior is more willing to listen to their doctor than to a family member, especially on this subject. Utilize their physician to help with a conversation about driver safety, and perhaps to develop a plan for managing their driving.

If it is determined that the senior is safe to continue driving, but there is still some concern, suggest limited driving, upon the advice of the physician. This could include driving only during the daytime, during non-rush hour traffic, or only to familiar, nearby locations such as the hair salon/barber, shopping center or grocery store.

4. Keep the car, but remove the keys. Sometimes there is a psychological advantage to keeping the car in the driveway or in the garage. Immediately selling or removing the vehicle can be extremely upsetting, resulting in significant trauma and argument.

5. Consider getting a driver or caregiver companion. Often the best solution is to have someone take the elderly loved one out for errands. To help ease the transition, perhaps explain to them that having a driver is like having a chauffer who brings them on enjoyable outings, and assures them continued independence.

Many communities have senior driving assessment centers that test the senior’s ability to drive. The local Division of Motor Vehicles or American Automobile Association offices have senior driver testing programs. Often the outcome of a driving test will provide the result necessary to make a final driving decision.