aging parents and driving

Aging Parents and Driving: When Taking the Keys Away from Them is the Right Decision

Many empty nesters are finding that they are replacing childcare with ‘parent care’. This is the life situation that has caused many in our age group to be referred to as the ‘sandwich generation‘. One of those life decisions that such empty nesters face in that situation is their aging parents and driving. When is the right time to address that concern?

aging parents and driving
The Life Unfettered author’s father with one of the first of his many cars over the years [circa 1947].

This is not an easy decision to make. What follows are some recommendations from Cindy Richards of Best Nest Senior Advisors. [The following is reprinted with permission from Best Nest Senior Advisors.]

There are many reasons that it may become necessary for taking the keys away from an elderly driver. Whether it is a physical and/or mental reason, family members are often put in the tough position of taking the keys away from another family member. One of the biggest reasons for taking away the car keys is when an aging parent becomes an unsafe driver.

Aging Parents and Driving

Most older adults have experienced decades of personal independence with their ability to drive. For years, that mobility has been used to work, vacation, shop and transport children to school, etc. It can become such a core tenet of one’s sense of self. As an American, one often feels that “To live, is to drive.”

So, when an older person can no longer be trusted to be safe behind the wheel, that senior driver is often not emotionally ready to let go of that sense of independence. Denial of the warning signs can be a strong emotion for them.

And family members also struggle with similar emotions for their parents. They often don’t want to see their parents, who always took care of them, to now need assistance from others.

What can a family do when it comes time to have this type of conversation with their aging parents?

The best way to handle this is to include a trusted outside influencer into the conversation. Here are some ideas for who might be the best ‘outsider’ to include.

Who Can Help with Taking the Keys Away from an Elderly Parent

Your Aging Parent’s Physician

Compared to a family member’s advice, older individuals often hold their doctor’s opinions in high regard. If your aging parent or family member has a particular health care provider that they respect, it may be beneficial to have this person address driving and safety during their next appointment.

The doctor may be able to provide additional info regarding their physical and mental fitness and assess whether they pose a risk to themselves and others by getting behind the wheel. Additionally, the doctor may be able to write a medical report, which can be presented to your state Department of Motor Vehicles (see below). Mandatory reporting requirements for unsafe driving vary by state. This can be a grey area for Doctors, depending upon their location.

Your Aging Parent’s Eye Doctor

Another option would be to involve an aging parent’s opthamologist/optometrist. Dealing specifically with the vision requirements of driving, an Eye Doctor can help to educate the aging driver and the family members to what risks are involved due to impaired vision.

This Medical provider can provide a report of impaired vision that can also be provided to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Your Aging Parent’s Lawyer

Another respected outsider that might be able to help the senior driver to understand the risks of continued driving is a lawyer. Of course, their input would be focused on the legal and financial implications of unsafe driving.

Most elder people are very risk averse. And if they can not be convinced by a Medical provider to relinquish their driving privileges, the legal and financial impact might work better for them.

A lawyer can help them to understand how an accident could potentially wipe out their finances. It could also potentially wipe out any inheritance plans for their property and finances. This can often be the biggest influencer in getting an unsafe, senior driver to give up their keys.


Finally, if nothing else works, you may be forced to contact the State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. The process varies from state-to-state, but once a report is filed, the DMV will investigate. This investigation can include retesting the driver’s knowledge and skill. If this is done, then the DMV inspectors will make a final determination of the aging seniors ability to drive. Bear in mind that not all states treat a report like this anonymously, so you will want to confirm what your state does and what you are comfortable with.

Taking the Keys Away from an Elderly Driver Yourself

One thing to keep in mind – even if you are successful in getting driving privileges away from an unsafe, aging parent, it does not mean that some will attempt to drive anyway. This presents some interesting issues.

If you do not have a legal Power of Attorney (POA) over your aging family member, you generally can not take possession of their automobile and/or car keys without their permission. If they have lost their driver’s license and are still trying to drive, you can attempt to hold their keys… but within limits. Ultimately, if they do take to the roads, you may be forced to contact local law enforcement to have them intervene. But that will come with its own consequences.

This is ultimately a tough process for any family to go through. Hopefully, one (or more) of the parties that we have mentioned in this article will be able to make the process easier for your family.

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