When did you know it was time to take the car keys away?
illustration of outline of car keys

We recently asked our community members to share their experiences with taking the care keys away from an elderly or ill loved one. Here’s what they had to say, from getting doctor’s orders to advice on how to do it with humor and grace!

Medical Reasons

Paula: When my husband was using his right hand/arm to lift his leg and move his foot from the accelerator to the brake, I knew it was time. MS stinks!

Helen: It’s a very hard thing to do. With my father-in-law, he was in his late 70’s, had a stroke and almost drove into the beauty shop where he would take my mother-in-law. After that, we just took him everywhere to pay bills, groceries, etc. Sometimes you have to be the “parent” and do what is in their best interest in keeping them safe.

BobbiRodger stopped driving long before he came to live with us. Medications he took for his schizophrenia could make him dizzy. However, even after 40 years of not driving he held on to his expired license and insisted he was a very good driver and could do it if only I would let him.

Emily: Mom hit a parked car and later didn’t remember what happened. That’s when I figured out she wasn’t properly taking her medication which is why she couldn’t remember. That’s also when I learned she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had been hiding it from us. She didn’t like it that I told her she couldn’t drive. When I found out that she drove again, I went to the car dealership and had a car key cut to look like her key but it wasn’t activated so it wouldn’t start the car. I secretly replaced her key with the dummy key. She thought something was wrong with her car, but she never told me because then I would know she was still trying to drive.

DonnaI knew that my Mom should stop driving when her balance became an issue together with her diminishing sense of time and direction. Mom linked her car to her sense of dignity and independence, so it was a very difficult day when she tore up her license and gave her car to my niece.  Mom knew that ‘feeling woozy’ meant she shouldn’t be driving, so luckily when the time came, it was her decision.

Doctor’s Orders

Harmony: I took my husband’s car keys when he could not move his legs quickly due to Parkinson’s disease. Our family doctor was very supportive, and I made an appointment with him to discuss this with my husband. He was able to convince Bill that he should not be driving because of the potential danger to others. It was a tough sell, and one that I couldn’t have done on my own.

Jane: My Dad’s doctor explained it to him and hasn’t been a problem since.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Kathy: It wasn’t so much take away, but never give back. I quit riding with him when he had an accident where he totaled two cars and messed up a third. At that time, the officer said that if anyone would have been in the passenger seat at the very least they would have lost their leg…the very least. Then one day, he was trying to find me — I was about 15 min away — and he ended up in Horse Cave, KY. It took 10.5 hours round trip to pick him up. The police found him going the wrong way on I-65. Needless to say, when I got the car out of impound, I kept the keys and he hasn’t had them since.

Pat: In our little town, we were getting friend’s reports of our mom being lost in the neighborhood. We disabled the car and then arranged for a couple of mechanics to give us a “an estimate” to fix it in the amount of thousands of dollars. They were friends of ours as well and were made aware of our unique situation.

Connie: Sadly, he was found driving 90 on a curvy country road. When family members found him, he was totally lost, very disoriented and began to throw up. I hid the keys the next day. I had a talk and told him it was time, not just for his safety, but for the “other guy” on the road. I explained that his brain was “shutting off and on and unfortunately it could happen at any moment.” He reluctantly agreed. Then we would find him looking in drawers for the keys and also trying to “hotwire” the truck. Hubby finally disabled the vehicle so he could not start it. Sad, but very necessary.

Karen: My mother disappeared for almost 3 hours in one day. Just as we were about to call police, she returned home as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred. We took the keys from her that day. She never asked about driving again.

Michelle: My grandmother got lost going around the corner to a store that had been there for decades. Pulled the spark plugs. For a few weeks, she asked every day when the car would be fixed until, eventually, she forgot.

Lisa: Daddy reluctantly handed them over. He was without a car for 3 weeks while it was being repaired. When we brought it to him we did a “driving test.” He seemed confused and a little disoriented. When we got back we asked him to give them up. Later, people told us stories of seeing him all over his little town. Some were very scary. So glad no one ever got hurt! Best thing that could have happened.

Getting the DMV involved

Belinda: We had our Mom’s eye doctor send her a copy of a letter he sent to the DMV saying she was legally blind. She even had him retest her eyes to be sure, bless her heart. She voluntarily surrendered her license but still wanted to drive to the mailbox and back up the driveway. We had to disable her van and convince her a family with three children needed it more than she did. She still misses the freedom of driving herself.

Michelle: My brother had to call Mom’s doctor and he called the state DMV after she got confused with him in the car. My dad simply could not deal.

Debbie: It was very difficult with both parents (83 & 85). We got very angry calls as we removed the car and all the keys. That was 1 year ago and they still ask about the car, but they now live in assisted living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. We drive them to church and doctor’s appointments. The DMV finally took their driving privileges away.

Accidents Happen

Jackie: After a few fender benders where the only damage was to his own car, he decided one afternoon to go to his favorite lunch spot and parked in his usual parking place. Unfortunately someone else was already parked there.

Harriet: I took my mother’s keys away after we moved her from Florida to Minnesota. Mom drove by sound. When she hit something, she changed direction, and her car looked like a battle-scarred tank. We bought the car from her, which eased giving up the keys.

Cheryl: Mom had an accident – rear-ended a preacher who was stopped to make a left turn. Demolished both cars. Was taken to the hospital along with the preacher, but neither was injured. She was around 85, I believe. We did not get her another car. We kept stalling and also made sure that we drove her wherever she needed to go. She mourned the loss of her car for a very long time. Now, at age 95 with dementia, she doesn’t recall her car, but she’s still hanging in there!

Donna: Mom was having repeated “little” parking lot accidents – an accident down the street from us where she turned in front of oncoming traffic, not using her mirrors to change lanes, etc. It was time. We didn’t know how we were going to get her off the road. But then her brakes needed replacing, and we convinced her the car was not worth putting that kind of money in it…no more driving for Mom.

Tammy: Grandma Evelyn kept running stop signs.

Self-guided

Julia: He actually handed them over (82 yr), when he almost ran his car into the neighbors living room while trying to hit the brakes and wasn’t fast enough. He wanted to blame it on the meds, but in time, he found the truth before we were ready to accept that it was that time in his life, too.

Kathy: Dad gave me the car keys. He had a very close encounter pulling out on to the highway. Sent other cars into a ditch. He is 88 and it totally unnerved him. I live with him at our house and drive him to visit Mom at the nursing home. They took care of me as a child, it is now time to take care of them.

With humor & grace

Tracey: Took my mom’s car away 8 years ago for the greater good of all society. She still brings it up ALL the time.

Sally: My mom was getting all dressed up to ‘drive to church’. Morning, noon, night, winter, summer, it was always ‘time for church’. (Not that she was religious, but she was a sort of secretary to the priest in the past and was reliving those times). One day I went to pick her up for a doctor’s appointment. She was all dressed up and said, ‘you have to move your car, they’re expecting me at the church.’ I said, ‘no, there is no church today, we are going to the doctors in my car.’ I swear, we had this little conversation 20 TIMES in half an hour. Ended up going to the doctor appointment early! Lol!

Advice

Pam: Let the Dr. handle it. It’s up to doctors to report to motor vehicles about meds the person is on. Many doctors should not have a problem lifting this burden off your shoulders. I had my father’s doctor do this in 2003, and my aunt in 2007. Was so much easier with the doctor’s help.

Barbara: Do it respectfully and preserve their dignity.

Tricia: Please don’t wait! Lives depend on it, including that of your loved one. I “borrowed” my mother-in-laws car after I witnessed a stranger drop her off at home in her own car and she said she asked when she didn’t feel up to driving home from the store. Thankfully it was an honest, kind person, but it was a HUGE red flag. Speak up and act if necessary!

RickMy sisters and I collectively approached Mom and Dad to voice our concerns and persuaded them to sell their car. I recall visiting them, riding as a passenger in their car, and being repeatedly nervous when Mom or Dad failed to shoulder-check. It was a sad day when I helped to return this vehicle to the dealership where they bought it, but there were other transportation options available to them and this was certainly the safest move.

Written by Liz Imler
As our Community Manager, Liz focuses on The Caregiver Space's daily online happenings. She also works behind the scenes, fixing bugs and making sure the site delivers our members a clean and seamless community experience. Before coming onto The Caregiver Space, Liz served as a Community Manager in the health and finance industries. She holds an MA from New York University and a BA from George Mason University, and splits her time between Virginia and New York. Her passions include writing, music, and travel.

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31 Comments

  1. When she blew through a stop sign. Gave her some time. She got in a collision a month later. That was it.

    Reply
  2. When he was not thinking clearly at times.

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  3. Thankfully, my mother chose to give up her car, when I moved her to live near me. My husband will be another story. He does already knows he should not drive more than a couple of miles from home, due to spontaneous neuropathy and leg/foot pain and cramping. I drive him most places further than that. Honestly, I hope he passes before dementia sets in, which I think it eventually will. Maybe not though. We shall see.

    Reply
  4. When he couldn’t even figure out how to start the car.

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  5. When my dad thought the pedals of the car had been moved :( he has Parkinson’s

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  6. When my mom started driving on the sidewalks and didn’t know where she was but happened to be only a couple blocks from the house.

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  7. On being diagnoised and started on meds my husband had to stop driving.but he never accepted it.but l know peopld are driving with dementia not good as you are not insured and not safe.

    Reply
  8. Sent my mom’s car in for “repairs”. She asked once. “Didn’t I have a car out there, yesterday?” I said, “Nope.” and that was the end of it.

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  9. The doctor told us to take the keys, so she was the one to tell Mom she had to give them up.

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  10. When Grandpa got in the backseat and was pissed someone had stolen the steering wheel!

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  11. Mom “couldn’t find the exit” going home from my brother’s & was driving up & down the freeway looking for the right exit. Her neurologist said it was time. My sis took the car, told Mom it was at our brother’s (a lie), which Mom told me. So I thought the car was at his place 35 miles away. I kept asking how we could arrange for me to take it to my house to sell it, but they wouldn’t answer. Welllll, Mom wanted to visit our bro & since the car wasn’t there & they didn’t want to get caught in a lie …. Did they call me asking me to take it? No. Did they lie to Mom again telling her it was at my house? No.

    THEY GAVE THE CAR BACK TO HER.

    My sis parked it too close to the house for Mom to get in the driver side, but she kept wanting to drive it. It took about 2 months before we could take the car away again, because she kept getting too upset about it.

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  12. You have to firm and just say they aren’t allowed to drive anymore due to their safety and others.

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  13. After my aunt had her stroke, she was driving with my 95 year old grandma. She reared someone. No one was hurt. I took the keys away that day. She was pissed at me but I had to do it.

    Reply
  14. Our neurologist told my husband when he was too compromised, mentally, to continue driving. Then he notified the DMV. Isn’t that the responsibility of the attending physician?

    Reply
  15. My wife went to the YMCA almost every day. One day she forgot how to drive there. I drove her for about a week, she no longer wanted to go. It was time to take the keys away, she forgot how to drive in another month.

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  16. My husband still thinks he can I hide the keys and I feel guilty I anwer the same thing night after night when are we going home who are these people are they on holiday not sure how much longer I will cope HE THINKS I AM lying to him xx

    Reply
  17. When he mentioned it himself.

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  18. My Mom went legally blind MANY years ago. For my Dad, when he made his own exit on the grass and down to the drive thru at his bank !!!!

    Reply
  19. When my dad got lost and said I don’t think I should drive anymore,and handed me his keys around 80 years old.

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  20. I knew myself when it was time to stop.

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  21. Ma fell down in her house, her paid caregiver came and found her on the floor, unable to get up. Ma was pretty far gone by then and didn’t know what happened! (was uninjured). In all the kerfuffle that followed, getting her up, changed, etc. I went around and used this golden opportunity to take every single car key I could find in the house. She called me a few days later saying she couldn’t find her car keys, but not much after that. (Prior to this, she was driving and getting lost, driving in the middle of the night thinking it was in the afternoon, not the daytime, driving to church every. single. day. for the 5 p.m. mass – at 5 a.m., wondering why the church doors were locked. I mean, come on! When they start doing that, IT’S TIME!)

    Reply
  22. I used to have to call my clients and tell them or their family member they need to stop driving. I had to tell my own mom to stop driving too. I am good at difficult discussions.

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  23. MY HUSBAND KNEW WHEN IT WAS TIME.

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  24. When my husband knew there was something wrong with his brain and he was no longer confident driving. Thankfully he gave them up willingly.

    Reply
  25. And what does one do when, at the request of close friends and neighbors, you take your husband’s keys away …. only to have his 80 year old father (who lives in a different state and is in complete denial regarding his son’s Parkinson’s Disease) buy him another vehicle AND give him gas money?

    Reply

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