How to Recognize When It’s Time for Older Adults to Stop Driving

One of the most difficult conversations caregivers can have with their older loved ones concerns driving. Telling someone they are no longer safe to drive can result in hurt feelings, resentment, and arguments. ALCA member Susan Birenbaum addresses these concerns and directs caregivers to useful resources.

How to Recognize When It’s Time for Older Adults to Stop Driving

Susan Birenbaum, MBA, LCSW, C-ASWCM

One of the most frequent questions that I get from Adult Children as an Aging Life Care Manager is, “I am concerned about my parent’s driving but don’t know how to discuss it with them. My siblings agree that my parent should no longer be driving, and perhaps the other parent also agrees. We have tried to bring up the subject with my parent, but he is in denial and it leads to an altercation.”

What does giving up their license mean for an Older Adult?

  • Giving up driving is a very emotional issue for an Older Adult. They view it as judgment by their children, but more importantly as a loss of independence, especially if they live outside of a major city without easy transportation.
  • People have driven for years and it is viewed as an important part of their identity.
  • Often this can result in isolation, lack of ability to socialize, and reliance on other people.
  • This can result in a very emotional conversation with the children and can turn to anger.

How to Handle the Conversation & Topics to Consider:

  • Taking the keys from Older drivers;
  • Talking with Older Drivers who need to stop driving;
  • The warning signs of unsafe driving.

It can be helpful if you arrange for someone or someway to provide transportation that the Older Adult can continue to attend social events, MD appointments and avoid isolation, thereby helping them to maintain their way of life.

A resource which can be very helpful in handling this situation of having the older driver give up driving is his physician. Generally, the physician is viewed as an authority figure and the Older Adult will listen to him/her.

Where Do We Turn?  

AARP Driving Tool

The most valuable tool in this situation is the AARP Driving Tool (www.aarp.org).  It is an online seminar which addresses all these questions. The format is as follows:

When Should Older Adults Stop Driving?

  • AARP Driver Safety: available online and in a classroom
  • Older drivers and automobile safety
  • Driving Assessment for older drivers
  • List of when to put the brakes on elderly drivers
  • AARP Driver Safety Test
  • Driver Safety, Public Transportation and Mobility Caregiving tips

Modules I –The Meaning of Driving

Module II – Observing driving skills

Module III – Planning conversation

Guidebooks for Car Safety

There are many guidebooks for helping with the conversation. The Hartford Insurance Company, in conjunction with the MITAge Lab, produced guidebooks titled “We Need to Talk.”  These guidebooks can be downloaded at www.thehartford.com. Chapters include:

  1. Your Road Ahead
  2. Comprehensive Evaluations
  3. At the Crossroad, Family Conversations about Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Driving

A point to bear in mind is that just because the driver is older does not necessarily mean that he/she should stop driving.  Two ways to evaluate safety include: (1) AARP Safety Test; (2) Personally drive with the individual and see if he/she drives competently and safely.


Susan Birenbaum is a Certified Aging Life Care Manager and Psychotherapist specializing in Geriatric and family issues. She is a Principle, Humanittude LLC.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

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