Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz

Caregivers and families are eventually faced with the decision of when to take the car keys away from elderly relatives. 

In my book, One Caregiver’s Journey, I discuss one of the most difficult decisions adult children and elderly parents must make.   Driving is one of the last vestiges of independence for adults. Taking the car away is akin to cutting one’s arm off.   It takes dedicated patience to convince parents they should no longer drive and when to take the car keys away.

The decision for my mother to stop driving at age 91 was based on moving into a new home.  My mother was a champion driver and could navigate the car to any destination.  At one time she was able to drive the mountain passes and roads with no hesitation.  As she aged, she became more cautious and limited her driving to the hairdresser and to sitting with her sister when she was at a dialysis center very near our home.  Her sister passed away and she would only drive to the hairdresser at age 91. When we moved to a new home, she insisted she could continue to drive but after I brought her to the hairdresser a couple of times, she decided that if I had Fridays off, I could drop her off at the hairdresser, go get groceries and retrieve her within about an hour.  All was well until my brother sold her car, then the reality set in that she was not going to drive again.  She blamed me until the day she died for taking her keys because she was fully capable of driving.

There are ways to convince parents they should no longer drive rather than just selling the car.  Ride with them.  Make an appointment with the DMV for a driving test and to enroll in a Mature Driving Course to see if they meet the standards.  Check the car on occasion for dents, scratches, and missing paint chips.

It is important to remember that a person’s age is not the sole reason for taking away driving privileges and car keys. Many seniors in their 80s and 90s are still active and safe drivers.  There are those in their 50sw and 60s who have become a danger to themselves and others on the road.  The true factors that must be considered in this decision should be the mental and physical condition of the senior.  Another factor is to consider where they live.  If they live in a rural area, chances are the town residents know them, traffic is not going to be a factor as neighbors will pull over to let them pass.  If however, they live in a metropolitan area where there is heavy traffic and congestion, then the considerations change.  If keys are ultimately taken away and/or a car is sold, assure them it is not the end of their independence. 

Family members might take turns bringing them to the store or hairdresser or look for solutions in senior agency transportation.  If you are facing this dilemma, here are some of the signs and questions to ask to help make these difficult decisions. 

  1.  Do they have problems with lanes? Do they change lanes frequently or straddle lanes?
  2. Do they ignore or miss traffic signals or signs? Do they fail to use turn signals or keep them on without changing lanes?
  3. Do they brake or stop abruptly, hit the accelerator, drive significantly slower than posted speeds, costs to nearly a stop in moving traffic while pressing the brake and accelerator simultaneously?
  4. Are they more nervous when driving? Do they have more near-miss occurrences or back up after missing an exit?
  5. As we age our reflexes are not as quick to process multiple images or sounds.  Our body (neck) is not as flexible to see traffic on the right or left and has difficulty seeing pedestrians or other vehicles.
  6. Do they get disoriented or lost more easily, even if they are in a familiar location but is confused in traffic?
  7. Have they received two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years?
  8. Are there dents or scrapes on the car, or on a fence, garage door, mailbox or even on the curb?

These are signs to look for as a way to make this difficult decision of when to take the car keys away.

Grab a copy of One Caregiver’s Journey on Amazon or at  It is a journal written over nearly a decade of being the sole caregiver for my mother.  It is a blueprint for caregiving and a snapshot of the realities of of the changes and challenges of being a caregiver for a decade.

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