when you're too old to drive

We can all think of someone who’s out on the road when they shouldn’t be. America just isn’t built for people who can’t drive—how will they buy groceries or get to the doctor’s office? Talking to someone about giving up driving is a big conversation that needs to be handled with grace and empathy.

When someone is ‘too old’ to drive, they’re putting themselves, their passengers, and the public at risk. Of course, safe driving isn’t about your age, it’s about vision, hearing, reaction time, navigation, and overall health. There are plenty of medical conditions and certain medications that make it unsafe to drive. If you notice scrapes on the bumper or a dent in the garage, those can be signs of serious driving risks. Ask your loved one to drive the next time you’re out running errands together to get an idea of whether or not it’s still safe for them to be on the road.

Bring it up early

Start a dialog about safe driving before it becomes an issue. Rather than waiting until it’s a serious danger and then asking them to go cold turkey, ask them to cut back. Work with them to figure out how adapting their route can keep them behind the wheel a little longer.

Try having them:

  • stick with familiar routes,
  • avoid long distances,
  • stay home in bad weather,
  • avoid traffic, and
  • only drive during the day.
Man checking the oil levels of his car

Cars aren’t just transportation – they’re hobbies, connections to friends, the freedom to explore, and packed with memories.

Acknowledge that this is a big deal

Driving isn’t about transportation, it’s about freedom. Cars are often tied up in people’s identities. People have so many memories with their cars—getting their license, buying their first car, exploring new places. Acknowledge that this is more than a practical decision; this is a loss of dignity and independence.

Start with someone they’ll listen to

Plenty of parents aren’t keen on doing what their children tell them to do. Having their attorney, minister, or an old friend start the conversation could save you from a struggle.

Work with the professionals

You may be able to have the DMV or their doctor request that they go in for an eye exam and save you the trouble of being the bad guy. This is a common issue that they’ve dealt with before. Some states require that doctors report to the DMV if they are unable to drive because of their health. Every state DMV has its own policy for handling drivers who are dealing with medical issues.

a local shopkeeper standing in her store

Moving downtown brings shops and offices within walking distance. It also allows people to join a whole new community.

Don’t leave them stranded

Be ready to provide them with alternative transportation options, especially if there isn’t public transportation in your area. Shopping can be delivered. Friends can take them out. Tech-savvy folks can take Uber to their appointments. Some areas even have senior shuttles and volunteer drivers. Here are our guides to driving alternatives in the United States, Canada, Ireland & the UK.

There’s even the possibility of selling their car and using the proceeds of the sale—and what you would have spent on insurance and maintenance—to cover the cost of alternative transportation. Don’t just leave the car in the driveway to taunt them.

Sometimes the end of driving signals the need to move. Some places just don’t work without a car. Senior communities cater specifically to meet this need, but there are plenty of ways to make sure people can get around without a car, like moving in with family, finding a place downtown, or getting closer to a reliable transit route.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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8 Comments

  1. Clyde knew he had to stop driving when he couldn’t remember where to go even with me in the car. But was a sad time for him and me.

    Reply
  2. Augusta University (GRU) in Augusta, GA offers a service to test 4 areas – Strength, Cognitive, Visual and a Driving Simulator… I wish I had known this before taking away my mom’s keys… when we eventually went to have her checked after her medication was corrected, they did a superior job in handling the testing and going over the findings… If I had known this in the beginning, it would have been so much better on the family with professionals making the recommendation…

    Reply
  3. I kind of had to do it. I say kind of because my Dad pretty well knew (he has ALS). The saddest thing ever because this is their last bit of independence. It broke my heart when he told me he has dreams about driving. #ALSsux

    Reply
  4. Our doctor sent my husband for a test. He fails and the doctor took away keys. That saved me from doing it

    Reply
  5. Sometimes dementia makes it impossible to even begin this conversation. The person in question simply doesn’t have awareness of how bad their driving actually is. So you just need to do whatever it takes to remove the choice.
    Take away the keys works sometimes.
    I had a friend who disabled the distributor cap on her husband’s car. He would get a notion to go somewhere, the car wouldn’t start, and he’d be entertained for an hour or more tinkering with it. By that time he usually had forgotten where he wanted to go and would go back in the house.
    I know another family who “took the car in for a tune-up” and then invented a tale about why it didn’t come back.

    Bottom line: Get creative if you have to.

    Fortunately for us, my husband did not take the conversation well at all. He stormed into the DMV, pushed ahead of everyone, DEMANDED to be tested right away AND showed the clerk the Dr’s paper with his dementia diagnosis.

    LOL not the most carefully thought out strategy. And he DID give up his keys without a fight after that.

    Reply
  6. A policeman gave us a hand, the issue wasn’t my mother so much as her husband who insisted she drive. (He was BPD) I called the PD, and they had a fellow volunteer to come talk to them, recounting stories and issues. Took a while, my BPD stepfather was convinced it was a friend dressed up as a cop so he was insulting to the gentleman for a bit, but the officer handled it with diplomacy and tact. Made a very hard thing easier.

    Reply
  7. My mother started having problems with her driving, getting lost, hugging the center line & then one day, she side swiped a dump truck & thankfully wasn’t hurt but doesn’t anything about the accident, so I was able to get the court to revoke her drivers license until she took her driving test. But then she passed the driving part of the test & I knew that she still didn’t need to be driving, so I had to get her Dr. Involved. She still doesn’t remember the wreck & still thinks she should be able to drive anywhere she wants to go. And I’m the one being cruel…… I’m saving the lives of everybody in the community!!!

    Reply
  8. My dad HAS been told by the Eye Doctor that he cannot drive any more – and at taht appointment was told to use wetting drops for a dry eye problem. He is convinced these wetting drops will improve his vision so doctor will tell him he can drive again at his next appt (12 months away). He won’t discuss giving up the car at all, so it sits in our driveway – maybe next year after that appointment, he will acknowledge he can’t drive – we’ll see.

    Reply

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