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Older Adults and Driving

For most of us, there will be a time when we need to stop driving.  

How do you recognize when that is, and how do you talk about it with your loved one?


Most of us remember getting our driver’s license and the feeling of independence that came with it.  We cannot fathom the day we will need to give up the keys. That is why giving up driving can be so difficult - we associate it with independence, self-reliance, and responsibility.  We may have spent so much of our lives relying on being able to drive somewhere that we cannot picture a life without it.  


Remember that giving up driving is often not just about driving  - it symbolizes so much more and can be quite an emotional topic.  There is no single approach when talking with an older adult about driving. You know your loved one best and what will likely resonate with them, so keep that in mind when preparing.


  1. Be Prepared - understand the problem and be ready to offer solutions.  This guide can help you prepare. 

  2. Plan Ahead - create the right atmosphere for the discussion. Limit distractions and ensure the time is convenient for them and does not interfere with their schedule so that you have their full attention.

  3. Solicit Input - this should be a conversation with your loved one where you explore the problem and options together.  Unless your loved one has cognition problems, they are probably still making their own decisions, so respect that and work with them.

  4. Be Empathetic and patient -  think about what it would be like if someone asked you to stop driving. Try to speak slowly and remain calm. It may take more than one conversation. 


Some Warning Signs That It May Be Time To Stop Driving

  • Getting lost on routes that should be familiar

  • New dents or scratches to the vehicle, garage, fence, or mailbox

  • Driving violation tickets 

  • Experiencing a close call or accident

  • Becoming  overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving 

  • A delayed response to unexpected situations

  • Speeding or going too slowly for no reason

  • Difficulty moving into or staying in the correct lane of traffic

  • Hitting curbs when making right turns, backing up, or parking


Normal Age-Related Changes Can Impact Driving

Decreased vision, hearing loss, cognitive changes, slower reflexes, stiffness, and pain affect a person’s ability to see, hear and respond to other drivers and pedestrians, especially when there are sudden changes. Certain health conditions and medications can also affect driving skills.  Talk with your loved one’s doctor about how their health can impact their driving. 


Offer Solutions

Remember that this is a conversation, so propose alternatives and listen to what they say.   

  • Conduct an assessment of the vehicle. Can visibility be improved by adjusting the mirrors or seats?  Is the seat positioned correctly to reach the pedals and is the steering wheel comfortable?

  • Propose a senior driving course. Even experienced drivers can benefit from learning new techniques for driving in today’s challenging environment. Instructors can also recommend accommodations for age-related changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time. Let them know they may be eligible for an auto insurance discount upon completing a driving course. Auto insurance companies, AARP, and AAA offer such courses.

  • Suggest a driving test to evaluate their ability to operate a car safely. Driver’s tests are available at local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)  offices. Offer to take one as well to show that this is not only for older drivers. 

  • Suggest alternative transportation methods or create a transportation schedule using family and friends as drivers.  Consider hiring a driver or using public transit, taxis, or rideshare. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about senior transportation programs and Paratransit in their community.  

  • Offer alternatives to limit driving, such as online ordering of groceries and medications. Consider meal delivery or professionals who provide services in the home instead of the office. Services like GoGoGrandparent are accessible by phone.


If the Conversation Does Not Solve the Problem 

If your loved one is not ready to stop driving and you have serious concerns about their safety or the safety of others, try some of the suggestions below.  These are generally used as a last resort. 

  • Speak to their physician and share your concerns.  Older adults often heed the advice of their doctor over their family. 

  • Report an unsafe driver to the DMV.  Some states allow anyone to make a report, while others require a physician.  Check the requirements and process in your state.

  • “Lose” the car keys.  However, this only works if your loved one cannot obtain a new set of keys. 

  • Disconnect the battery.  Again, this is only helpful if your loved one cannot call for service.  

  • “Loan” the car to a grandchild, family member, or friend temporarily.  With time, your loved one may adapt to not driving and will not miss having a car. 

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