Time for 'The Talk'? Discussing Driving With Your Folks

Posted by Safeco September 28, 2015
Senior Driving Talk

Tips for Having a Successful Senior Driving Talk

It's one of the most common worries for adults of a certain age, and one of the most difficult to deal with. Just about the time you start to relax (a little) about your teenagers' driving, you may start to worry about your parents’.

Maybe there are unexplained nicks and dents in their car. Maybe they're not reacting as quickly to traffic as they should be. Whatever the circumstance, you're beginning to think it's time to talk with them about giving up their keys.

That's not an easy conversation to have. In fact, a few years ago, respondents in a Pfizer study said it’s easier to talk about a parent’s final wishes or will than it is to talk about giving up driving. There's no shortage of advice out there about how to make it easier, though, and there's some consensus about what works: advance planning and a systematic approach.

Here are some tips that may be of use when it’s time to talk to your parents about whether they should still be driving:

  • Observe—and document—your parents' driving habits. To know what’s really going on, you need to get in the car with your parents. Are they missing stop signs or stop lights? Mistaking the gas for the brake? Having difficulty turning to look over their shoulders to change lanes? Make a mental note and write it down later. Written, factual evidence of problems will be useful when you initiate the conversation. To help, the National Caregivers Library offers a Driving Assessment Checklist for you to fill out – just don’t use it when you’re in the car with your parents.
  • Consider suggesting a class. Rather than giving up driving entirely, perhaps your parents could benefit from a tune-up of their driving skills. Online and classroom courses are available from such organizations as AAA and AARP.
  • Be aware of what you're asking them to give up, and be ready to offer alternatives. For the past several generations, driving has been a symbol of freedom, self-reliance, spontaneity—even a person's very identity. And, that’s what makes it so difficult to give up. Older adults faced with handing over their car keys are likely to feel trapped, isolated and needy. In response, you need to be ready to discuss other transportation options, such as public transit or regularly scheduled rides with family members and friends (perhaps in exchange for some favor from your parents, so it doesn't seem like charity). Use this helpful chart from AARP to better understand your parents’ attitudes toward driving and learn ways to respond.
  • Keep it conversational, not confrontational. Unless the situation is critical, and a serious accident seems likely without immediate change, don't opt for a dramatic group intervention. Rather than having “The Talk,” try for multiple informal conversations that evolve over time. A couple of conversation starters: "Driving isn't what it used to be"—compare notes on increased traffic, parking, rude drivers. Or, perhaps the annual cost of driving—gasoline, maintenance, insurance. Move on to your inventory of driving-skill issues, and your ideas for alternatives to driving.

We know you want your parents to enjoy their golden years – after all, they deserve it. Knowing that they’re either being safe behind the wheel or else refraining from driving will help you enjoy those years alongside them.


Resources for You and Your Parents

To help you and your parents arrive at a safe, satisfactory solution to their driving, take advantage of these resources: free online AARP seminar, National Institute on Aging tips, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration booklet.

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