Senior Citizens Driving:
Stage 4 - How do you help your aging parents know when it‘s time to retire from driving… and make it happen?

Senior citizens driving? Is it time? When do senior citizens know it's time to retire from driving? Retiring from driving could be one of the most difficult moments in your aging parent’s life. Ideally this conversation has been happening over some time. (See the 5 Stages of The Driving Conversations below.)

Regardless of the preparation, when a parent is no longer able to drive there is a time of readjustment and grief. Many things have changed that have led up to this moment and signal yet another major loss. But the key is to prepare to end senior citizens driving so that they can maintain as much freedom and control and choice in their lives as possible.

One senior in a study sponsored by AAA summarized the magnitude of the loss this way…“Can’t see, can’t hear, can’t walk, but I have my car.”

Why retiring from driving is so important

When it’s time to retire from driving, it’s a serious matter… often a matter of life and death.

Studies show that senior citizens driving have the highest fatality rate in car accidents. In part, because of the severity of the crashes, but also because frailty that comes from age makes it much more difficult to recover from the physical trauma of a car accident.

Along the way you have worked with your parent and professionals to evaluate not only their driving, but their mental and physical abilities:

  • Mental - ability to make split second decisions, judgment and instant complex problem-solving, memory and ability to plan alternatives (in case of detours, etc.)
  • Physical - strength and flexibility. Ability to move fluidly to control the gas and break, to turn one’s head and neck to monitor traffic, and for backing and parking
  • Visual - senior citizens driving must read street signs, traffic signals, anticipating actions of other drivers, peripheral vision to see traffic coming from the side or what’s around when turning or changing lanes, changes of vision in different levels of light: bright sunlight, dusk, night driving
  • Reaction Time - ability to make sudden changes in the flow of traffic, or react to unexpected actions of animals or small children

What NOT to do

The decision to retire from driving is NOT an ultimatum. It is not a single conversation as in “It’s time to have the talk.” Not by force as in “It’s time to take away the keys.”

Ideally this conversation is the next step in a process. Your aging parent has been a partner in monitoring and evaluating the changes in their own driving abilities and challenges.

Even if you did not begin this process well before you are observing serious changes in your parent’s driving ability, it’s best to attempt to move through the 5 Stages of The Driving Conversation in an abbreviated form. Rather than having these conversations about senior citizens driving over a period of years, you may need to have them over months or weeks, or even days. You want your parent to be in the position to say, “Yes, it’s time to retire from driving” for themselves. You want them to be your partner in creating this plan.

Questions You Need to Ask Your Parents About Senior Citizens Driving at This Stage

  • Dad, it seems like you no longer feel confident behind the wheel. It seems that driving is becoming more of a struggle. What do you think?
  • What are all the things we’ve tried along the way? It doesn’t seem like those things are keeping you as safe any more. (Pause and let him respond)
  • The most important thing has always been your safety and your freedom. If we map out an alternate plan to get you everywhere you need to go, and try it for 3 weeks, would you be willing to suspend driving to try this plan?

After the Trial

  • So what challenges getting around did you have during this time? Let’s make the plan better so you’ll have fewer and fewer problems staying independent.

Where to Get Additional Information

Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialists Driving Rehabilitation Specialists can give the final word on your parent's driving ability. They are certified to assess all the complex functions that will permit your parent to continue to drive safely. They normally work on a referral basis from your doctor, but may be available for questions or consultations. This list will allow you to find a Certified DRS by state. Many hospitals can often refer you to an occupational therapist trained to provide the same functions.

To Understand the 5 Stages of The Driving Conversation, click the links to the pages below:

Return to Senior Drivers Overiew Page

Return to Stage 1 - The Driving Conversations
Ideally you begin this conversation before any issues have presented themselves. Establish your concern for the future and align yourself with being on the same team as your aging parent.

Return to Stage 2 - The First Signs of Change
What to look for as early signs of change in driving habits. Self-assessment tools offered. Providing support to preserve maximum freedom.

Return to Stage 3 - The Warning Signs
Learn the signals that there are more serious concerns. What professional medical assessments could be suggested. Referrals to Driving Rehabilitation Specialists and adaptive devices for the car are discussed.

Click Here to Read Stage 5 - Preserving Independence After Driving
Plan ahead to maintain their freedom. Creative transportation alternatives to driving.

Senior citizens driving to talk early talk often with aging parents Home Page

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