When a loved one ought to stop driving
Dear Savvy Senior,
What is the best way to deal with older drivers who probably shouldn’t be driving anymore? My dad, who’s 86, is bound and determined to keep driving as long as he’s alive.
For many families, talking to a parent about giving up the car keys can be very difficult and sensitive.
While there’s no one way to handle this issue, here are a few suggestions that can help you evaluate your dad’s driving and ease him out from behind the wheel when the time is right.
Take a ride together
To get a clear picture of your dad’s driving abilities, a good first step, if you haven’t already done so, is to take a ride with him and watch for problem areas.
For example: Does he have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does he react slowly, get confused easily or make poor driving decisions? Does he drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes?
Also, has your dad had any fender benders or tickets lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on his vehicle? These, too, are red flags.
If you need some help and your dad is willing, consider hiring a driver rehabilitation specialist who’s trained to evaluate older drivers and provide safety suggestions.
Take a class, have a talk
After your assessment, if you think it’s still safe for your dad to drive, see if he would be willing to take an older driver refresher course. These courses will show him how aging affects driving skills, and offer tips and adjustments to help keep him safe.
If your dad takes a class, he may also earn a discount on his auto insurance. To locate a class, contact your local AAA (AAA.com) or AARP (AARPdriversafety.org, 1-888-227-7669). Most courses cost around $20 to $30 and can be taken online.
If, however, your assessment shows that your dad really does need to stop driving, you need to have a talk with him.
But don’t get carried away. If you begin with a dramatic outburst like, “Dad, you’re going to kill someone!” you’re likely to trigger resistance. Start by simply expressing your concern for his safety.
The Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offer a variety of resources to assist you with talking to your dad and evaluating his driving skills. Visit TheHartford.com/lifetime and click on “Publications” on the menu bar, then on the “We Need to Talk” guidebook.
If he refuses
If your dad refuses to quit, you have several options. One possible solution is to suggest a visit to his doctor, who can give him a medical evaluation and, if warranted, “prescribe” that he stop driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own family.
If he still refuses, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they can help. Or call in an attorney to discuss with your dad the potential financial and legal consequences of a crash or injury. If all else fails, you may just have to take away his keys.
Once your dad stops driving, he’s going to need other ways to get around, so help him create a list of names and phone numbers of family, friends and local transportation services that he can call on. [See sidebar below, “Local transportation services,” for some ideas.]
Send your questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.
Local transportation services
Here is a sampling of free and low-cost transportation services offered to older adults in the region:
In Washington, D.C.
In Montgomery County, Md.
In Northern Virginia