Remember the exhilaration of passing your road test and the sense of independence that came with finally being able to drive? Now imagine the flip side of that – the loss of independence, coupled with fear and resentment that could accompany the end of your driving days.

That is the emotional state that seniors may face when they are told that they can no longer drive. Yet if you suspect that your aging parent or senior may not be safe behind the wheel, it is probably time for you to have a serious conversation about their driving.

How do you know when to have “the talk”?

You may have noticed some red flags that caused you to be concerned about your loved ones’ driving ability. Typical signs that it may be time to relinquish the car keys include:

  • Increased accidents, even fender benders
  • Unexplained dents and dings on the car
  • Frequent tickets
  • Getting lost, particularly when taking familiar routes
  • Taking medication that could cause grogginess or impair reaction time
  • Failing eyesight or hearing
  • Medical conditions such as severe arthritis that make it difficult to grip the steering wheel, switch from the gas to the brake, or turn the head
  • Cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia

What have you observed?

You may have noticed telltale signs that your loved one is not fully up to the task of driving. Give-aways include:

  • Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
  • Driving too slow for road conditions
  • Decreased confidence in driving ability

What is the best way to bring it up?

If you believe it is time to discuss your loved one’s ability to continue driving safely, here are some guidelines to help you initiate the conversation:

  • Use language that emphasizes “I” instead of “you.” For example, say, “I am concerned about you being safe behind the wheel,” rather than, “You are not a safe driver.”
  • Express that you understand how important it is for the person to be able to get around and to maintain their independence.
  • Offer alternatives such as ride services, taxi companies, and public transportation.
  • Enlist family and friends to help provide transportation to grocery stores, doctor’s appointments and other regular activities.

Helpful resources

A physician or occupational therapist can perform a driving ability assessment on your loved one. The results of this can provide objective evidence that driving is no longer safe for that person.

AARP offers an online seminar to help you have “the talk” with your aging relative. Learn more here: