Mom, I Have to Take Away Your Car: How to Have the Conversation?

July 20, 2021

One of the hardest things about getting older is the loss of independence. American culture especially values independence and self-reliance. As the child of aging parents, you will probably have to have many conversations with them about accepting more care as time goes on. Lots of people say that the hardest of these conversations is the one about giving up driving -- taking away their car keys. 

“It can be very difficult to communicate your concerns to an elder who doesn’t want to stop driving or is in denial of the fact that their driving has become questionable or downright dangerous.” AgingCare 

Taking Away The Car Keys -- Role Reversal 

There was a time in the relationship when your parents threatened to take away your car keys. So, knowing how important independence is to all of us makes this conversation more difficult. The freedom of the open road looms large in our imaginations. Before starting any talk about not driving anymore, think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end. You might feel frustrated, trapped, or belittled. 

“Keep the conversation non-accusatory, honest and between ‘adults,’ not ‘child and parent.’ Say things like, ‘We’re concerned,’ ‘We care’ or ‘We don’t want you to get hurt or to hurt others.’ Once you’ve both come to an agreement, you can continue to support your loved one in ways beyond just offering rides.” parentgiving

A good way to lessen the blow of not being able to drive anymore is to plan to have several conversations with your parents. If possible, don’t wait for a major crisis like an accident. Maybe your parents are in great health and are great drivers. This is actually a good time to talk about how they want you to approach them when they need to stop driving. Everyone is able to be more calm about something that’s several years down the road. 

Gradually Quitting Driving Is Easier than Suddenly “Taking the Car Keys”

Another good way to approach the discussion about not driving (or driving retirement, as some people call it), is to suggest gradual changes. Perhaps your mom or dad would agree not to drive at night or in bad weather. Maybe they would be okay with not driving for long distances or for a long time. A gradual transition allows your parents to get used to making alternative plans. It also gives you time to make a plan with the rest of your family. 

Be sure to discuss your parents’ driving with your siblings and other family members. Maybe you feel your mom or dad aren’t safe drivers, but a sibling, cousin or aunt disagrees. If possible, the rest of the family should be in agreement. 

Make plans so that your parents can still do their errands, go to their appointments, and see their friends, especially if they need to give up driving altogether. When family lives close together, this can be pretty straightforward. Different people might volunteer for a particular day or for particular types of errands. You should also look into local options for inexpensive transit for seniors. Maybe your parent would prefer something they can do on their own. Check out ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft, as well as local taxi services. Getting meals or groceries delivered can streamline things, as can buying things online. Don’t push these services too hard if your parent is uncomfortable with technology. 

If You Can’t Plan in Advance, Be Kind, Firm, and Clear About Stopping Driving

The hope is that you can ease your mom or dad into driving retirement gradually, and that there will be enough time to put plans in place to help them stay connected to their friends and social life. However, there are situations where a gradual approach won’t work, and you have to be direct and clear. Perhaps your mom’s health suddenly declined, and she was in an accident. Or maybe your dad’s reduced mobility got way worse really quickly, and he can’t check his blindspot anymore. Maybe they got a new diagnosis, especially if it means cognitive function has decreased, and they have to stop driving immediately. 

Many of the principles above still apply. Be empathetic, get the whole family on board, and make plans to keep your mom and dad connected to their old life as much as possible. 

If your parent is in denial about the severity of their decline, you might need to enlist the help of outside professionals. Go with them to their doctor’s appointment, and ask specifically about driving. Ask them to take the test at the DMV and see if they can still pass. (Do be careful here, because if they do pass, you just made the conversation much harder.) As a last-ditch measure, report your parent to the DMV as an unsafe driver. You can usually do this anonymously, so your parent can be mad at the government rather than you. 

We hope these ideas help you have this conversation with your parents in a calm and productive way. As always, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter if you found this on social media and get back to living your best life!

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