Putting the Brakes on Driving Risks for Seniors: The Road Less Traveled
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
For many of us, driving has meant independence since the time we were teens. It’s
something we take for granted, getting behind the wheel and going where we need to
go, when we want to and without a lot of advance planning. Imagine, if you will, how
your life would change if you could no longer drive. It’s a situation that families face
every day: having a talk with mom or dad about their safety on the road.
Seniors are safe drivers compared to other age groups. Yet Triple-A says that as our
life spans increase, older drivers are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average
of seven to ten years.
So when is the best time to talk to your parent or other loved one about driving? The
earlier you do it the less threatening it will be. And, having this difficult conversation
when the situation is not an immediate crisis, gives the senior an active voice in
planning for the future.
In a best case scenario, you might plan regular checks of his or her driving skills and
perhaps a gradual decrease in driving. That is why early planning is so important. But
the reality is, many of us wait too long, resulting in a tough talk about stopping driving.
So, how do you start and what do you say?
Plan ahead and engage others before you begin; having a second family member, a
trusted friend of the senior, and/or a doctor to back you up is a big help.
Ride along with the driver several times, and in varying conditions from time of day to
weather to traffic, and note your observations.
Consider the older adult’s driving needs including doctors’ visits, shopping and
social activities; think about alternative transportation and the reality of the cost and
ease of use of these options. You might also want to calculate the total annual cost of
owning and maintaining a vehicle compared to the price of other transportation.
Once you’ve taken these steps, write down your thoughts, develop a plan and run it past
someone you’ve asked to help with this process.
Consider your approach carefully. Plan to have the conversation when you both have time to
talk, and to listen.
Realize that this is not a one-time conversation; it is a dialogue that will likely take place during
Be respectful in words and tone – and consider how you would feel in the same position. For
most older adults, this is an absolutely huge life change.
If the reaction is negative…
•Do not become defensive. Be a good listener and let the older driver express any feelings
and emotions. This may help you to understand how and why the conversation has been
•Respond with empathy. Say, “I understand how this is upsetting,” or, “Let’s focus on what
we can do to help keep you safe without limiting when and where you want to go.”
•Do not lecture or demand that an older driver give up the keys. The more you alienate
your listener, the less you will be able to help.
•Be objective. Encourage the older driver to check safe driving skills and abilities by taking
a self-rating program (see below for free download of AAA self-rating tool for safe driving)
or getting an assessment from a professional.
Once you and the senior driver have agreed to a plan, document the actions you will pursue
and review it together for accuracy.
You will undoubtedly experience some bumps on the road going forward, but having the
courage to start that tough conversation is an important first step.