How to Convince Your Aging Parent to Stop Driving

On behalf of The Berger Firm Dec. 20, 2019

Every adult child knows that conversations about altering a parent’s lifestyle due to aging are extremely sensitive. These talks could be about finances or moving to assisted living, but typically the first difficult subject to address is unsafe driving. Driving can feel like the ultimate symbol of freedom, especially if you have done it for many years. Going where you please whenever you please gives you choices—and choices give you power. So how do you broach this touchy topic?

8 Tips for Talking About Retiring from Driving

  • Start the conversation early. If possible, begin talking about how to handle this topic with your parent before their driving deteriorates. Ask them, “If the time comes, how will we know when it’s time to stop driving?” This shows care and consideration by involving the parent and giving them the opportunity to choose how things should play out. It’s a good way to give back some agency to someone losing it in another area.

  • Consider who should talk to the parent in question. Would this conversation be more effective if approached by a spouse or an adult child? Who can handle the matter with sensitivity and respect? Who does this individual listen to?

  • Observe the parent’s driving firsthand to assess their ability. Take mental note of things like reaction time, awareness of the road, speed and other safe driving indicators. This will give you some tangible data to bring into the conversation.

  • Avoid emotional language and stick to the facts. This topic is already sensitive, so approach it with straightforward language and supporting data. Make clear that you are concerned for their safety, first and foremost. Even if your parent is still driving reasonably well, you might cite the fact that the risk of fatality in an accident increases significantly with age. Or discuss the safety concerns you observed while driving with the parent. Alternatively, you could, if applicable, explain how the health issues they suffer from are impacting their driving—and the same goes for any medication they are taking. Never threaten to “take the keys” or use an accusatory tone.

  • Be sympathetic. Assure your parent that you know how hard this is. Listen carefully to what they have to say, and practice active listening by responding verbally with statements like “I hear you” or “I understand.”

  • Talk one-on-one with your parent. Never have an “intervention” with multiple family members. The parent will feel like you’re ganging up on them and get defensive.

  • Offer alternative solutions for getting where they need to go. Look into local senior transportation options or discuss getting them set up with Uber or Lyft. Reassure them that they will not be housebound; that is not the purpose of this conversation. You just want to keep them safe.

  • If the parent does not accept that their driving is declining, suggest taking a driver’s test for seniors. They may not be receptive to hearing that their driving has deteriorated from you, but they won’t be able to deny an objective test result supporting your claim. Alternatively, if they pass, you can feel more comfortable about them continuing to drive for a time.

Talking to someone about their unsafe driving is difficult but necessary. This is not just about their safety but also the wellbeing of other drivers and passengers. Approach this conversation with love and understanding. Plan now so you can be sure that your presentation of relevant facts is tactful rather than thrown together on the fly. You parent deserves respect, and you can give them that while still doing the right thing for everyone on the road.