A few weeks ago, my friend’s parents went out to do some grocery shopping. It was a very stormy night when they started home. While on the busy freeway, a young woman hit them from the back.
While cars whizzed past them, their car spun around a number of times before it landed against the guard rails. As my friend’s mother said, “The angels were working over time.”
They were not hurt physically, but weeks after, they are still traumatized. This accident was not their fault, but it did have them reevaluating how long they will continue to drive. I’m very happy they’re beginning to think about this.
Another friend’s mother wasn’t so lucky. Her husband was blind, so she was the “designated driver.” She pulled out from a three-way stop on a foggy day. She hit a man on a motorcycle. He died from the collision. The stress and grief were too much for her. She died within a few months and I believe the accident was a significant factor in her death.
So, here are a few tips to think about if your parents are coming to that age when they should retire the car keys.
The last thing you want to do is have to tell your parents it’s time to stop driving. We all cherish the convenience of getting in the car and going where we want. Driving is freedom. But when is it time to talk to a parent about retiring their car keys?
Warning signs – If one of your parents has stopped driving at night, had near collisions, or had an accident, gets lost easily or had a ticket recently, it might be time to have the conversation. There are other signs to watch for and the Hartford Group has a great assessment tool for you to use. (I’ve printed it out for you below) It’s best to start this conversation before it’s eminently needed so your parent has time to think about it and start to make alternate arrangements for transportation.
How to begin – It’s always best to start with genuine concern. Be careful not to attack the person or their abilities. Has your parent started a new medication or suffered a recent health set-back? This can be the start of the “stop driving” talk.
You can start with, “I’m worried about you driving now that you’re taking that medication.” Or, “I’ve noticed you don’t drive any longer at night. Maybe we should make arrangements for your errands and doctor’s appointments.” Don’t expect to be well received the first time you have the talk. Don’t let their displeasure stop you from bringing it up, either.
It’s not a pleasant topic but it’s far better than having your loved one get into a serious accident. You may suggest they talk to their doctor for guidance.
Recruit an ally – Sometimes sensitive discussions are best held between spouses. Studies show that men respond more positively to their wives than their children. Get mom on board with this discussion. Let her know you will do your best to make it an easy transition. Getting all your siblings on board will also help. Sharing the responsibility of seeing to your parent’s transportation will make it easier.
Emphasize the positive – Try to look beyond the negative when talking to your parents. Point out how much money they’ll save by giving up the car. Tell them you’ll both enjoy more time together now that you’ll be driving them around. Praise them for making the responsible decision.
Back-up Plans - There will be times when your parents need transportation and you are unable to accommodate them. Have several back up plans. Many communities have dial-a-ride and bus services. When they make their first trip on the bus or with dial-a-ride, offer to go along. They’ll feel more comfortable if they know what to expect. You may also wish to talk to their neighbors about the situation. Often they’ll be glad to help.
To make it easier for you, here is the Hartford Group list of things to watch for with an elderly driver
1. Decrease in confidence while driving.
2. Difficulty turning to see when backing up.
3. Riding the brake.
4. Easily distracted while driving.
5. Other drivers often honk horns.
6. Incorrect signaling.
7. Parking inappropriately.
8. Hitting curbs.
9. Scrapes or dents on the car, mailbox or garage.
10. Increased agitation or irritation when driving.
11. Failure to notice important activity on the side of the road.
12. Failure to notice traffic signs.
13. Trouble navigating turns.
14. Driving at inappropriate speeds.
15. Not anticipating potential dangerous situations.
16. Uses a “copilot.”
17. Bad judgment on making left hand turns.
18. Near misses.
19. Delayed response to unexpected situations.
20. Moving into wrong lane.
21. Difficulty maintaining lane position.
22. Confusion at exits.
23. Ticketed moving violations or warnings.
24. Getting lost in familiar places.
25. Car accident.
26. Failure to stop at stop sign or red light.
27. Confusing the gas and brake pedals.
28. Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason.