There’s a reason there are so many songs about driving. For many of us, driving represents independence. It gives us the ability to go where we want, when we want — the ability to live our lives on our terms.
That’s why the thought of giving up driving can be so difficult. But it’s a conversation many of us will have to have at some point. Perhaps you’ve noticed things that concern you about your parents. Maybe there has been an incident.
Whatever gets you to the point of wanting to have a conversation, it’s important to approach it with sensitivity. When it’s time to give up driving, you’re taking away someone’s freedom.
START WITH SIMPLE ADJUSTMENTS
Driving ability can decline for different reasons. Sometimes the issue is that the driver’s physical capacities are declining. If that’s the case, the car itself can sometimes be adjusted to meet a driver’s needs. One option is the CarFit program, developed by a coalition of agencies, in which a trained technician adjusts seats, pedals, steering wheels and other parts of the car for maximum safety. “We want to keep older adults driving as long as they’re capable,” says Ed Hutchison, director of traffic safety for the National Sheriffs’ Association.
However, if the driver is beginning to show signs of dementia, “that’s a very different conversation,” he says.
MAKE A PLAN
If possible, work on giving up driving gradually. Many people stop driving at night years before they give it up altogether. They may also avoid highways or certain busy roads or divide a long trip into three days instead of one or two.
“You should plan your retirement from driving just as you plan your retirement from work,” says Carrie Porter, a transportation specialist at the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources. A typical adult outlives his or her driving ability by 7 to 10 years, she says.
Whatever gets you to the point of wanting to have a conversation, it’s important to approach it with sensitivity. You’re asking to take away someone’s freedom.
“Have a plan for how you’re going to get around, and know the options in your community,” says Gail Holley, manager of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Safe Mobility for Life program. Her agency offers an aging-in-place checklist (which you can use to help a parent stay in their home as they get older). Getting around could mean public transportation, rides from family members, walking, taxis or mobile ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft.
Holley suggests that older drivers should try getting to their usual places without their own car in order to spot potential problems in advance.
BE THOUGHTFUL WHEN YOU HAVE THE TALK
The usual therapist’s advice applies: Begin statements with “I” (“I am concerned about …”) rather than “you” (“You have become a dangerous driver”). Don’t bring it up at a family gathering. Otherwise, your parent could feel ganged up on.
It also helps to be ready with a list of alternative options to present a positive vision of life without a car. “Find out what your resources are and what you need to fill in for,” says Hutchison. “That way, it’s not just taking the keys and leaving Mom or Dad to sit home alone.”