When is it Time to Hang Up the Keys? (Aging Parent Series)

Remember the feeling of holding your first driver’s license in your hand. The Freedom! The Independence! You could go anywhere!

Now imagine of opposite, you are told you can no longer drive yourself and hand over your license. This is a situation that many older adults are facing and many fear the loss of independence and control that driving provides.

Normal aging does affect driving but there isn’t a “set age” when driving must stop.

When asked about driving safety, I generally reply back, “Would you feel comfortable letting your children/grandchildren ride in the car with this driver?” This usually gets the conversation started quickly!

As a physician, I take into account the following areas when assessing if driving is best for you:
With age comes a natural decline in vision so making sure your current prescription for glasses are accurate and YOU ARE WEARING THEM.  Seeing an ophthalmologist or optometrist should be at least an annual event for the 60+ crowd.
Physical Health
Are you falling? Do you have trouble moving your foot to the gas pedal /brake or turning the steering wheel? It takes flexibility, coordination and some strength to drive a car safely. Your doctor may recommend a formal driving course or occupational therapy if there is a concern about your physical strength. I have listed a few sites that offer Mature Driving Courses at the bottom. Usually car insurance companies will also discount drivers who participate in them as well!
Driving requires quick decisions and a working memory. Adults with dementia, advanced medical issues or on medications that modify or slow your brain should have a more formal evaluation on their cognition.

Have you started to recognize some problems with someone’s driving? The following are some red flags from The Alzheimer’s Association and AAA that you should pay attention to:

  • Issued 2 or more traffic tickets in the past 2 years
  • Involved in 2 or more accidents or “near misses” or seem to always have new dings in their vehicle
  • The driver get confused with the pedals or has trouble working them
  • Seems to ignore or miss traffic signs and signals
  • Commonly weaves or straddles lanes
  • Gets lost or disoriented easily even with familiar places

Working together with your loved one and making a collective decision is best. Family Caregiver Alliance and National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommend the following steps when deciding when to stop

  • Involve the Driver: No one wants to be hoodwinked in this life-changing decision
  • Observe for Signs: Share and discuss your observations
  •  Build a Record: Don’t just tell someone they are a bad driver, have specific examples.
  • Get help from professionals: DMV with driving test, person’s physician, lawyer, case manager, finance planner, etc can give an unbiased, third party opinion for guidance.
  • Develop a Plan: This could mean limit driving by having “certain rules” to follow or decide how to transition out of driving
  • Find Alternatives: Public transportation, taxi service, relying on friends or family.
  • Reduce the Need to Drive: Look for services that drop off at the person’s home or make home visits (pharmacies, hairdressers, clergy, groceries, etc)

Much of the information in this blog was gathered from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully Campaign, The American Automobile Association (AAA) and several resources listed within the article and below.

For Older Drivers, have an open and honest talk with your doctor or loves ones if you are concerned about your driving. We all just want to help!
Be Well!


Mature Driver Education Classes
AAA Mature Driver Program
Take the on-line course or call your local AAA club or 1-800-448-7916
A great brochure: Flexibility Fitness from AAA: Flexibility Fitness Training for Improving Older Driver Performance (available on website)

AARP Driver Safety Program (formerly known as "55 Alive")
AARP Smart Driver Course