You’ve grown concerned about your mother’s driving. She is now one of the 30 million senior drivers (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), and you've become more watchful. First, there are these serious dents in her car that she can’t explain. When riding along, you’ve had to remind her that stop signs were coming up. While driving she has seemed unusually distracted.
Senior drivers have more fatalities per mile driven than any age group except teenagers. Younger drivers crash more, but the crashes involving older drivers are more likely to be fatal.
Now you feel that it’s time to start the driving conversation with Mom, but you’re afraid of her reaction. So, why the fierce emotion when talking about her driving? Well, remember when you got your first driver’s license? That sense of pride and freedom stayed with you. If you’ve ever had surgery and a driving restriction while you were recovering, you know how your sense of independence was curtailed. So to understand aging parents, just take that emotion and intensify it by the number of years they have been driving.
Generations United, as part of their Get Old Wellness campaign, found that 39% of respondents reported that the hardest conversation to have with their aging parent is not finances, but elderly parents handing over their car keys, as opposed to 24% found it hardest to discuss their parent’s final wishes or wills.
So how do you begin an obviously touchy subject? Well, here are 10 suggestions to help you begin the conversation with your aging parent.
- Start the conversation early – “How would I best approach you mom, if I see that you are less safe on the road?” Make it a regular conversation over time.
- Observe your mom’s driving abilities. First, observe her driving. She should be able to follow all the rules of the road without prompting. Keep notes. Notice how she handles turning, changing lanes, maintaining safe speed and being alert for oncoming traffic. Your observations can become part of the discussion about her driving and you can explain why you are concerned about her driving now.
- Be Knowledgeable About Other Resources. Consider talking to her physician, other healthcare provider (such as a vision specialist), a law enforcement officer, an elder law attorney, or geriatric care manager about any concerns. Consider suggesting a comprehensive driving evaluation by a driving rehabilitation specialist. They may suggest driver re-training or vehicle modifications, such as wider mirrors, a steering wheel cover, or a visor extension, which might resolve some safety issues. If she appears to have other issues with life tasks, suggesting an independent living skills evaluation by an occupational therapist. Be prepared to explain to your mom that the involvement of an objective third party could help assess the situation.
- Acknowledge that this is difficult for your mom and approach the subject respectfully. You can begin the conversation by saying, “Mom, I know this must be hard for you, but we need to talk about your driving”. Then use whatever incidents you are aware of that led you to understand that Mom should not be driving. Accidents, vision problems, dementia, small stokes, etc. can all be very good reasons to give up the keys.
- Determine her transportation needs and figure out alternative transportation. If driving is no longer an option, understanding your mom’s transportation needs (medical visits, social gatherings, religious attendance, shopping needs, and community activities) and being prepared with an alternative transportation plan, such as hiring a driver, community based transportations or having family members pitch in will better prepare you for any fears and objections your mom may have.
- Have a One on One Meeting. Avoid holding a large family meeting and “ganging up” on your mom. This is not an “intervention”. Instead, select one person in the family who can best talk with her about her driving. .
- Avoid Confrontations. When talking to your mom, do not accuse her of being an unsafe driver or start with the assumption that she must stop driving now. Focus on your mom’s functional capacity, not her age or disease. Stick to factual rather than emotional issues, for example, say, “Mom, I don’t want to see you get hurt or hurt anyone else.” Use terms like “safe driving,” “driving retirement,” or “driving cessation.” Don’t talk about “giving up the keys.” Be ready to address anger or denial. Stay calm and don’t raise your voice. Do not respond to personal attacks or get drawn into unrelated issues.
- Listen and acknowledge your mom’s feeling. Allow your mom to express her anger and thoughts. Use appropriate responses such as: “I understand that this is upsetting,” or “We’ll work together to find a solution,” or “I’d probably be upset too.” Then gently return to your main points. When she has a negative response, repeat what she has said. “So, let me make sure I understand this, you are saying that …” to let her know that you are listening and that you care.
- Know when to stop the conversation and be patient. When getting through to your mom just seems impossible, stop. Begin the conversation another day after everyone has had a chance to cool off and think about the issue.
- Work Together. Involve your mom in the decisions as much as possible. Admit that there are no easy solutions and that this decision affects everyone involved. Focus on maintaining her independence, while stating that this may not necessarily be by continuing to drive. While discussing her transportation needs, be prepared to answer any of her “How will I get there?” concerns. Don’t be judgmental about her activities and pledge to help support to maintain her independence. For example, you might say: “I’ll help you figure out how to get where you want to go if driving is not possible.”
Even if the conversation about your parent’s driving is difficult, it is important for you to initiate it. Your parent may not have the courage to self-limit their driving and may need a prompt from you to take that painful step. Your help can keep your parent and others safer.
Carolyn Rosenblatt. (2013, June 6). Surprising Finding: The Hardest Conversation to Have With Aging Parents. http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolynrosenblatt/2013/06/06/surprising-finding-the-hardest-conversation-to-have-with-aging-parents/#660d2d752977.
Emily Yoffe. (2014, March 7). Give Me the Keys, Dad. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2012/03/when_to_stop_driving_why_it_s_so_hard_to_get_elderly_drivers_off_the_road_.html.
Dale Susan Edmond . (2016, January, 2). Help the Senior Drivers in Your Life Know When to Stop Driving…and Preserve the Peace ! http://www.talk-early-talk-often.com/Senior-Drivers.html.
Allison Cook. (2013, August 22). How to Talk to a Parent about Driving. https://www.care.com/a/how-to-talk-to-a-parent-about-driving-01290919.