When Should Elderly People Stop Driving?

Learn the 6 early warning signs and what you can do about it.

It’s not easy to make the decision to tell a loved one to stop driving, or to have to admit that the time has come. Many elderly people may feel a loss of freedom or experience frustration when they are no longer able to drive. While these emotions are normal, it is important to recognize the signs that it is dangerous for someone to get behind the wheel of a car.

Warning Signs

The aging process takes a toll on hearing, vision, and reaction times, all of which are vital to maintaining safety while on the road. It is important for families to be able to evaluate a loved one’s driving skills or for senior citizens to be able to recognize when their safety may be compromised.

If you or a family member has experienced the following symptoms, the American Association of Retired Persons suggests that it may be time to stop driving:

  • Getting lost in familiar locations
  • Responding slowly to unexpected circumstances
  • Difficulty moving a foot from the brake to the gas or confusing the pedals
  • Frequent “close calls” or near-crashes
  • Inability to accurately judge gaps in traffic
  • Getting distracted easily

Senior citizens who have a difficult time turning to check for oncoming traffic or seeing traffic signs should also consider turning over the keys.

Additionally, people who have noticed scrapes or dents on their garage doors, fences, mailboxes, and curbs may not be aware that their driving skills have waned over the years. While law enforcement may issue multiple warnings or traffic tickets, it is often up to the individual to recognize that it is time to stop driving.

Recognize the Emotions Associated with Driving

The first step in talking to an elderly relative or friend about driving is to understand the emotions that may come into play. Drivers of all ages enjoy the flexibility and independence that operating a vehicle provides. You may have already noticed that the senior citizen in your life has stopped driving under certain conditions, such as in bad weather or at night. Yet giving up those privileges for a short amount of time is quite different from doing so permanently.

The AARP notes that people who have to quit driving often experience emotions including frustration, anger and even depression. They may feel that they will be socially isolated or that they are now a burden to family members who will have to transport them. Part of the conversation you will have with your loved one may involve allowing them to talk about how they are feeling and validating those concerns.

How to Have the Conversation

Before suggesting that a senior citizen stop driving, you might want to have smaller, frequent conversations about driving safety. This way, you are starting to lay the groundwork for the big discussion ahead. You may want to think about structuring your approach through a days- or weeks-long process, such as this:

  • Step One: Start by merely discussing road conditions, traffic or cars in general.
  • Step Two: Talk about the elderly person’s current driving behaviors and why they need to change them.
  • Step Three: Tell the driver that the time has come to stop getting behind the wheel.

During the second phase, you may want to suggest driver improvement courses. These can often help elderly people either rectify their behavior or make the decision to stop driving on their own.

Alternative Transportation Resources

Before having those conversations, you can plan out some alternative ways for your loved one to still participate in his or her routine. For example, you can outline friends or family members who can take the individual grocery shopping or to exercise classes. There are also public transportation services that may be appropriate for your loved one, depending on where he or she lives.

There are also special transportation services provided through nonprofit organizations as well as private companies. For example, many of these services cater to clients who have disabilities that prevent them from taking public transportation. You should be aware that these services will often come at a cost, so budgeting for that may be a step you have to take before speaking with your loved one.

We understand that the topic of senior citizen driving is a sensitive one. These tips are designed to help ease the situation. If you found a method that worked well with your elderly family member please share in the comments.