Controlling the Car Keys — Should Mom or Dad Still Drive?

Controlling the Car Keys

Mom and Dad want life to be the way it’s always been. The seniors you love want to age in place and this may include continuing to drive to doctors’ appointments, get groceries, pick up prescriptions, attend social and spiritual events, get and return library books, go to barbers and beauty salons, etc. The last thing you and your seniors want is for them to be immobilized or isolated from the world.

At the same time, no one wants a car accident. Loss of acuity in hearing and vision, quick decision-making, and slower reflexes may make driving unsafe for a person in advanced years.

Caregivers and seniors may be in a state of denial about this. For adult children of aged parents, it is difficult to imagine Mom or Dad reaching a helpless state. A parent has always been the strong one, the mainstay, the adult who took care of life’s responsibilities. The seniors themselves find it hard to admit that their faculties simply are not what they used to be. The senior may want the privilege and freedom of driving and feel a strong need for it. They may deny or hide evidence that it is time to surrender the road to others.

The Warning Signs

 Here are 12 warning signs showing it may be time to talk with a senior about working toward alternatives to driving. If many of these signs are true of your senior, it may be time to corral Mom’s or Dad’s car keys before tragedy occurs.

  1. A medication Mom or Dad must take each day has warnings on the label against driving or operating machinery while it is being taken.
  2. Your parent is 75-years-old or older, which gives Mom or Dad a greater statistical chance of having an accident. Before taking the drastic step of taking away the keys, though, assess the actual abilities of Mom or Dad. Some people drive safely far past 75.
  3. Mom or Dad consistently drives at inappropriate speeds– too fast or too slow–for the actual situation.
  4. Mom or Dad misses Stop or other traffic signs.
  5. Mom or Dad overreacts to common driving situations—heavy traffic, a simple, non-threatening error by someone else, a road or wire repair truck on the side of the road with warning lights on or another frustrating but ordinary setback while driving.
  6. Marks appear on the car that Mom or Dad can’t remember or explain.
  7. Mom or Dad narrowly misses an accident and cannot see how his or her own mistake contributed to the near miss.
  8. Mom or Dad gets lost driving somewhere that she or he has driven to many times.
  9. Mom or Dad gets honked at frequently by other drivers.
  10. Objective people, including health care providers, friends of your parents, or even police, have mentioned that Mom or Dad should not be driving any more.
  11. Mom or Dad expresses an increased fear of driving.

Every individual is different and, just as people age differently and die at different ages, no one can predict the exact date that a senior should surrender his or her car keys. Understanding your own and your senior’s possible denial of a developing handicap or situation is a first step. Keeping the 12 warning signs in mind will also help determine whether or not Mom or Dad should still be on the road.




Tips for Caregivers: When Driving Should Stop. June 1, 2002. National Institute on Aging. Available online at

When It’s Time for Older Drivers to Give Up the Car Keys. Consumer Reports. August 30, 2012. Available online at