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Having “the talk”
with an older driver

It’s not easy to bring up the subject of giving up the keys with an older driver. Their driver’s license is more than just an I.D. It’s a symbol of freedom and independence.

Maintaining a positive and supportive tone is important. Don’t suggest that the older driver is a menace to others or shame them in any way. To keep the conversation going in a positive direction, try these tips.

Start early

Make it clear that it is something to plan for in the future, just like planning finances or household changes (e.g., lawn maintenance, heavy cleaning). If they have stopped driving at night, have them try a ride share to go to an evening event or to visit you!

Do your homework

Research transportation options in your area they can use. Talk to other family members to see which regular trips they can help with (medical appointments, grocery shopping, pharmacy etc.).  If you have these ideas ready to share with them, it can ease the anxiety they may feel about being shut-in at home. If possible, offer to meet on a regular basis to share transportation ideas for upcoming events. This will help ease the transition to life as a passenger. 

Use a planning agreement

The American Occupational Therapy Association and AAA have created a planning agreement for families and older adults to plan together for continued, safe mobility. 

Have the conversation in a positive environment

Go for a walk, or take them out for coffee or dessert. Start off the conversation with “I love you” and how much you care about them and let them know you will be there to help.

Accentuate the positive

Focus on their safety, and make it clear you will work with them to help them continue the activities they enjoy. Don’t make the conversation about age (“You’re too old to drive”); focus the discussion on their driving skills.

Use “I” statements

“I worry about your safety on the road,” sounds less accusatory than, “You’re not a safe driver anymore.”  

Suggest a gradual approach

If their driving issue centers on one particular skill (night driving or freeway driving, for example), suggest they switch to an alternate method for just those trips. This “trying it out” method can lead to getting out in the community even more than they currently do. Once they see they can remain active, it can ease their anxiety about giving up driving completely. 

If they react negatively, remain supportive

An older driver may become angry or defensive if you suggest they should stop driving. Don’t respond in kind—remain calm and empathetic. Tell them you understand why they’re upset. If they refuse to discuss it further, wait a while and try again when they’ve had time to calm down and think it over.    

Recognize that a car is more than just transportation

For some, especially men, their car is part of their personal image and is more than just a means of getting from point A to point B. Is there a way to manage transportation differently, but maintain the vehicle as a hobby or recreational activity? This strategy could help soften resistance to the idea of driving retirement.  

Make a transportation plan