How to Have 'The Talk' With Older Drivers

The Senior Driving Talk_SeniorDrivingAAAcom.jpg

CARS.COM — Just as you dreaded having “the birds and the bees” talk with your kids (you had it, right?!), you’re likely also anxious about having the “should you still be driving” talk with your parents or older relatives. Neither emotionally charged subject is easy to broach, but they’re both essential to the well-being of your loved ones.



A survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for, a resource for senior-care issues, spotlights just how challenging the safe-driving/stop-driving topic is. The Senior Driving Data 2015 survey conducted in June found that Americans are quite divided about who should decide whether an elderly driver should hang up his or her keys: doctor/caretaker (29 percent), family (25 percent), the state department of motor vehicles or government (23 percent) or the older driver (16 percent). The survey was conducted by telephone using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S.

Related: Adaptive Devices Can Ease the Drive, Ride for Seniors

Among the 65-and-older population, the findings were a bit different. Thirty percent said they’d prefer their family to make the drive-or-not-to-drive decision; 26 percent preferred to make the decision themselves; 21 percent wanted their doctor/caretaker to do the deed; and just 10 percent thought the DMV or government should step in.

“We’ve done other research in the past, and we found out that people would rather talk to parents about their funeral than take away their car keys, so we know it’s a tough one,” said CEO Andy Cohen. “But there is no one else to have those hard conversations; it is the adult children.”

Why is it important to talk with older drivers about driving? The answer is in the statistics.

Next to teen drivers, seniors have the highest fatality rate per miles driven even though they drive fewer miles than younger motorists, AAA reports. According to the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT Age Lab, fatalities begin to climb at 65 and rise dramatically at 75 due to increased frailty and an inability to survive physical trauma. With the 85-plus population estimated to grow from 5.8 million in 2010 to 8.7 million by 2030, that is a concern.

So how do you navigate the safe-driving talk with older relatives?

The first thing to remember is that talking about driving doesn’t have to mean hanging up the keys. Experts encourage families to start the discussion long before driving becomes a concern. That takes some of the emotion out of it and provides all concerned parties an opportunity to create a plan for limiting and, eventually, ending driving. When a driving incident forces the discussion, families are reacting rather than being proactive.

The other thing to remember is that many older drivers self-regulate when their driving abilities begin to slip. They will avoid driving after dark, during rush hour, in bad weather and in unfamiliar areas. If your older relative is already doing this, you’re ahead of the game.

Before speaking with older drivers, it’s important to assess their driving abilities by spending time in the car with them behind the wheel, checking the vehicle for dings and scratches, and finding out if they’ve been involved in any accidents.

Once you’ve done that, prepare for the talk. Here are some tips from the experts:

  • Pick a trusted friend or family member who relates well to the older driver to lead the discussion.
  • Set the right tone: Be respectful and sensitive.
  • Emphasize safety for the older driver and others on the road.
  • Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages to present your concerns in the least threatening way.
  • Ask the older driver what he or she thinks should be done about his or her driving.
  • Reinforce that many older adults take control by changing how and when they drive.
  • Handle objections with reflective listening; rephrasing what the older person said shows empathy and support.
  • Explore automotive technology that might be helpful: Backup cameras, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic systems, and park assist are just some of the available driver-assist features.
  • Come up with a plan for reducing driving, write it down and agree to review and revise it as necessary.

When it is time to hang up the keys, have a plan for viable transportation alternatives. Enlist the help of relatives and friends; investigate senior citizen transportation services; and find out what types of public transportation options are available. Research that information beforehand so it’s ready to use when it’s needed.

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