Taking Car Keys From Elderly Parent

taking car keys from elderly parent

Following a workshop I performed this summer, 3 women each waited patiently to discuss an important issue with me.  As it turns out all three had the same dilemma… What to do on the topic of:  Taking car keys from elderly parent.  For the first woman, it wasn't the fact that her Dad was coming up on his 99th birthday and still driving.  It was that she felt her Mom was asking him to “drive more than he should”.  For another, it was the emotional issue of role-reversal in taking away Mom’s driving privilege (i.e. the child becoming the parent).  For the last, there was no doubt or hesitation about what needed to be done, her question was how to do it.

This is one of those key questions I hear regularly in my workshops as I travel around the country.  It’s a tough one to solve because there is so much emotional power tied up in the independence of being able to drive.  The issue is further complicated when the person in question lives in an area where public transportation isn't good.   If this is your caregiving dilemma, it may help you to pull the problem apart into bite-sized pieces.

Taking Car Keys From Elderly Parent

  • First step; Determine if your parent’s driving is hazardous.  Do they drive too slow or too fast?  Do they have trouble reading street or traffic signs?  Have they recently side-swiped other cars or been in fender-benders?  While these little accidents aren't big concerns, they may be a tip-off that your parent’s vision isn't sharp enough for them to drive safely.  If you don’t want to be set up as the judge of your parent’s driving ability, contact an Occupational Therapist (OT) and have him or her conduct a driving ability assessment.  The pitfall to avoid is having the mind-set that even though Mom or Dad’s driving isn't good, “They only go to the store/church/library/doctors, so it’ll be OK.”  Release that thought.  Driving skill is either there or it’s not.  If it’s not, then they shouldn't be driving.
  • Next step; Talk to them about how they feel about their driving skills.  They will probably acknowledge that it’s not perfect, but will insist that it’s adequate.  That OT assessment can come in handy if the test results were poor, but your parent thinks his or her driving is still safe.  If they still insist they’re OK to drive, then check with your local Motor Vehicle Department office to find out what kind of help you can expect from them.  Some states will revoke a license upon request by a physician.  Can you get such a request from your parent’s doctor? Some states require regular driving tests when a person reaches a certain age.  Others will ask a driver of a certain age to be tested if someone requests the test.  The pitfall is that among these states, some will disclose to the driver who’s being tested the name of the person who turned them in.  This can cause problems if you’re the informer.

“It’s a tough one to solve because there is so much emotional power tied up in the independence of being able to drive.”

If the authorities are not going to help you take the keys away, here are some other ideas:

Other Ideas For Dangerous Drivers

  1. Contact the auto insurance company and let them know about the problem.  They may revoke the insurance, in which case Mom or Dad cannot drive while uninsured, or the cost of it will become prohibitive.
  2. Disable the car.  This only works if the driver isn't sufficiently familiar with the car’s engine and can’t spot the sabotage.  Tell them there’s a delay in finding the part that’s needed, and while this is going on, help them to adapt to a new mode of transportation.  By creating a new habit in place of the old, they may give up on wanting to drive.
  3. If the issue is dementia, try removing the car in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind plan.  For these folks, once the car is gone from their physical presence, it may eventually fade from their consciousness all together.

Remember, the problem to be solved is to keep Mom and Dad safe, not to engage in a contest of wills.  Approach the problem from the safety point of view and you may be able to elicit their cooperation in willingly giving up the car keys.

Blessings, Joanne

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