Helping Older Drivers Give Up the Car Keys

Dear Savvy Senior,

What tips can you recommend that can help me deal with my mom's bad driving? At age 83, her driving abilities have declined, but I know she's bound and determined to keep driving as long as she's alive.

Nervous Nelly

Dear Nelly,

There's no doubt that giving up driving can be a tough step for many elderly seniors, as well as a difficult conversation for concerned family members. While there's no one way to handle this sometimes touchy topic, there are a number of tips and resources that can help you evaluate and adjust your mom's driving, and ease her out from behind the wheel when she can no longer drive safely.

Assess Her Driving

To get a clear picture of your mom's driving abilities, your first step – if you haven't already done so – is to take a ride with her and watch for problem areas. For example: Does she drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes? Does she have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does she react slowly, get confused easily or make poor driving decisions? Also, has your mom had any fender benders or tickets lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on her vehicle? These, too, are red flags. For more assessment tips see SeniorDriverChecklist.info.

If you need help with this, consider hiring a driver rehabilitation specialist who's trained to evaluate older drivers. This typically runs between $100 and $200. Visit AOTA.org/older-driver or ADED.net to locate a specialist in your area.

Transitioning and Talking

After your assessment, if you think it's still safe for your mom to drive, see if she would be willing to take an older driver refresher course.

These courses will show her how aging affects driving skills, and offers tips and adjustments to help ensure her safety. Taking a class may also earn your mom a discount on her auto insurance. To locate a class contact your local AAA (aaa.com) or AARP (aarp.org/drive, 888-227-7669). Most courses cost around $20 to $30 and can be taken online or in a classroom.

If, however, your assessment shows that your mom really does need to stop driving, you need to have a talk with her, but don't overdo it. If you begin with a dramatic outburst like "mom, you're going to kill someone!" you're likely to trigger resistance. Start by simply expressing your concern for her safety.

For more tips on how to talk to your mom about this, the Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offers a variety of resources at TheHartford.com/lifetime – click on "Publications" on the menu bar, then on the "We Need To Talk" guidebook.

Refuses To Quit

If your mom refuses to quit, you have several options. One possible solution is to suggest a visit to her doctor who can give her a medical evaluation, and if warranted, "prescribe" that she stops driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own family.

If she still refuses, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they can help. Or, call in an attorney to discuss with your mom the potential financial and legal consequences of a crash or injury. If all else fails, you may just have to take away her keys.

Alternative Transportation

Once your mom stops driving she's going to need other ways to get around, so help her create a list of names and phone numbers of family, friends and local transportation services that she can call on.

To find out what transportation services are available in her area, contact the Rides in Sight (ridesinsight.org, 855-607-4337) and the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116), which will direct you to her area agency on aging for assistance.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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