Elderly Parents Driving – When is it time to hand over the keys?

The ability to maintain a valid licence and continue driving is a life-defining moment affecting the independence of elderly parents.

That is why, when the time comes for a senior to relinquish their driver’s licence or have their licence rescinded against their wishes, it can be very upsetting, and in some cases may result in mental and physical health concerns.

It is essential to have clear guidelines to decide when it is no longer safe for elderly parents to drive. You want the transition to be as smooth as possible.

Driving a car may feel like second nature, but aging may affect reflexes, eyesight, cognition, and overall safety at the wheel. Drivers 65 and older have the highest rates of fatalities, according to CAA.

By having conversations with your elder parents, you will be able to detect the warning signs and better protect them, as well as others on the road.

What signs indicate my elderly parents are not safe to drive?

If your parent is struggling with their sight, hearing, or memory, driving may put them and others at risk. Once a senior driver reaches the age of 80, they are a few things to consider. The Ministry of Transportation has a guide for Senior Drivers Age 80+

Some of the signs to look for are:

  • Getting lost on familiar routes 
  • Receiving tickets or violation 
  • Having accidents or close calls 
  • Experiencing difficulty reading or recognizing road signs or hearing emergency sirens or people honking
  • Changes in health could also be risk factors. 

A mental or physical decline can cause a driver to lose focus or control of the vehicle. Look for things like forgetfulness, trouble walking, dizziness, joint stiffness or loss of coordination, and any unusual agitation.

When should elderly drivers’ hand over the keys?

Every driver is different, and the average age seniors stop driving varies depending on the health and well-being of the individual. Some 60-year-olds may have poor vision and other health issues that affect their driving ability, while some 80-year-olds are perfectly healthy and safe on the road.

When making the decision, consider the following factors.

Diseases. Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia can affect judgment and driving ability. If your parent has been diagnosed with a form of dementia it is advisable to have a conversation with their physician. Seniors with diabetes may also need to be cleared to drive by their physician.

Medications. Certain prescription drugs may cause drowsiness or affect a person’s reaction time. Consult your parent’s physician to discuss if their medications put them at risk. You can help them keep track by using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention medicine risk fact sheet.

Physical conditions. It is important to stay active as we age. Driving takes control and dexterity. Inactivity can cause muscle deterioration, and this can affect a person’s agility, coordination, and strength.

Vision and hearing. Cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or macular degeneration may affect driving. Vision and hearing impairments can cause your elderly driver to miss visual or auditory cues to stop or slow down.

At home safety tests for elderly drivers

In addition to any required provincial driving tests, you can check for potential warning signs at home. Be a passenger in your elderly parent’s car on a regular basis. It can be helpful to make observations at different times of the day, in different weather conditions, and in traffic. Check to see how they control the vehicle:

  • Do they wear their seatbelt?
  • Do they stay in the correct lane?
  • Do they use their turn signals?
  • Are they staying within the speed limit?
  • Are they easily distracted?

Make it a Fun Experience

This home test can be a fun outing, rather than an interrogation. By taking a trip to the store, you can quietly make observations without being intimidating. Staying proactive in your parent’s driving journey can make a big difference!

Making a final decision for your elderly parents

Driving is a symbol of independence — no one wants to give up their freedom. Parents often struggle handing over their keys to their children. The role reversal can be difficult.

If you find yourself having trouble taking the keys away, remind your parent that perhaps it’s better to be alive and able to enjoy life than to be driving and risk hurting themselves or someone else.

Have conversations, look for signs, plan ahead, and — if the time comes for you to take the keys away from your elderly parents — be prepared and commit to what’s best for everyone.

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