Dear Family Resource,
I want my dad to stop driving. He’s 81 and in pretty good health, but I’m concerned. I’ve noticed scratches and dents on his car for which he can’t seem to give an explanation. When driving with him as a passenger in his car, he hits the brakes for no reason. He often drives too slow, drifts into the next lane, and other drivers honk at him. This year he’s already had 2 “fender-benders.” Fortunately, no one was hurt but I thought the insurance company or the Department of Licensing would require him to have a driving or vision test to keep his license. They didn’t and his license is good for another 3 years. I’d rather not take away his keys but what do you suggest?
~Dad’s Driving Me Crazy
For many seniors, giving up the car keys can symbolize the beginning of the end and that makes this topic a sensitive one. For his sake, for the health and safety of other drivers and pedestrians, and for the peace of mind of your whole family, I hope you’re able to come to a resolution soon. First, talk to your dad’s physician about his health (including vision, flexibility, strength, and motor function), the impact of any medications he takes, and his mental condition (memory, visual processing, and ability to maintain focus). There’s a chance that something as simple as new glasses or hearing aids, adjusting the car seat, or changing the time medication is taken could make a difference in your dad’s driving. But more importantly, his doctor’s opinion on his driving ability may carry more weight than yours. If/when it comes time for a talk with your dad about giving up the keys, hearing the news from his doctor rather than you could make it easier for him. If there are other family members that can get involved, you may want to enlist their help. The best possible outcome for your dad is for the decision about his driving to be his or mutual.
If a physician finds that your dad has a physical condition that can be corrected and that he can safely drive for at least a while longer, a course designed for mature drivers could help. The WA State Department of Licensing publishes a list of approved collision prevention courses designed to assist seniors 55+ to become safer drivers.
If you decide that your dad’s driving truly is a hazard for him and others, it’s a good idea to explore other transportation options before speaking with him. It will be important for him to understand that living without a car does not mean becoming housebound. Hopefully, family and friends will be available but most cities and counties offer various transportation alternatives for seniors. For example, the King County Mobility Coalition publishes a list of resources that include the bus and ORCA Light Rail Reduced Fare Permit. Home care agencies such as Family Resource Home Care also provide transportation services.
It’s understandable that your dad might be resistant to giving up driving, even if you present him with strong reasons that it’s no longer a good idea. It may take several conversations before your dad is even willing to talk about it. But I urge you to keep trying.