When to stop or limit driving

Deciding that it is time to discuss limiting driving or removing driving privileges with a parent is one of the most difficult things to do.  Driving is one of the key abilities that signifies independence, and when that is removed it may fundamentally change not only what that person can do, but also how they feel about him or herself. 

Some older adults make this decision willingly on their own.  I was very lucky about this with my own father.  When he was backing up in a parking lot when he hit the gas instead of the brakes.  Although there was no damage to the other car and only minor damage to his car, he immediately realized that this potentially could have been a disaster and as soon as he got home he told my Mom that it was time for him to stop driving.  He was only 75, but many older adults do not realize this so easily, and he really should have stopped driving a year or so prior.

Many older adults are able to make this decision for themselves at the appropriate time.  The reason this is critical for families is that if there is an accident, and a family member is aware of either medical or cognitive problems, they could be held liable for knowingly allowing the person to drive.  This is a very scary thought for many.  The question is…how do you go about doing this without negatively impacting your own relationship with the person?

There are several options.  When it gets to the point that you can provide examples of reasons your parent should not drive, and if you think your parent is able to have a reasonable conversation about it, you should pose your reasons and suggest alternative options for transportation (see below).

If you do not think the above conversation will go well, then you should talk to your parent’s doctor about recommending a driving evaluation. Locally here in North Carolina, this can be done at the Duke Driving Program.  You do not need a referral to make an appointment.  The cost is $200 out-of-pocket, as it is not covered by insurance. They then make a recommendation to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the DMV makes the final decision. The evaluation itself is a 3-hour comprehensive evaluation of cognition, decision-making, reaction time during a driving simulation test, and an eye exam specific to certain driving conditions.  Sometimes they may recommend further medical evaluations to be done.  These assessments are also very useful to evaulate suitability for driving after serious medical conditions, such as a stroke.  The Duke Driving Program guides you through the process once you have gone through their evaluation.  The end result is either:

  1. Drive without any restrictions
  2. Drive with restrictions (daylight only, no highways, no speeds over 45 mp)
  3. Retire from driving 

If DMV’s decision is to retire from driving, then it is the family’s responsibility to remove the person’s access to the vehicle(s).

Alternative Options for Transportation – When someone needs to stop driving, this does not necessarily also mean they can no longer travel independently.  There are now many alternatives to driving for older adults.  Research the options available in your area and provide this information to the older adult so they feel supported and can know they can still go out and do the things they enjoy, but just in a different way.

A variety of alternative transportation options are available. Depending on how independent and tech-savvy the person is, will dictate which options are best for your particular situation.  These options include city or town transportation services including Go Raleigh and Go Cary, Uber or Lyft, a cab, private senior transportation services (ex Transport4Seniors or GoldenHarmonyNC), private agencies that monitor and arrange Uber/Lyft and cost a bit more (ex. GoGoGrandparent), volunteer services that drive seniors, especially to doctor appointments, (sometimes provided by church or other faith organizations) and public transportation options in some areas that have special pricing plans for older adults as well as adults with disabilities. In Wake County, Resource for Seniors has several Transportation Programs for older adults.

Sometimes it is an important safety measure to disable or relocate your loved one’s vehicle until permanent arrangements are in place.  

For some, the dilemma surrounding how to deal with an older adult who needs to stop driving is a very perplexing and complicated topic.  If you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to an Aging Life Care Professional/geriatric care manager.  Sometimes an older adult will listen much better to a professional, objective more easily than a family member, even if we are essentially saying the same thing.  Family dynamics can often get in the way during this very important discussion and Aging Life Care Professionals are available to help make a plan and ease the way.