Giving up the car keys is one of the most difficult decisions made by older Americans. AAA offers tips on starting that difficult conversation with an older relative or loved one.
According to a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, older Americans are extending their time behind the wheel compared to previous generations. For example, 84 percent of Americans 65 and older held a driver’s license in 2010 compared to barely half in the early 1970s. In addition, 68 percent of drivers age 85 or older report driving five or more days per week.
“It can be uncomfortable to express your concerns about driving to a parent or grandparent,” said Linda Gorman, director of communications and public affairs for AAA Arizona. “As a safety advocate, AAA believes it is important for seniors to recognize when it’s time to hang up the keys—and it’s generally up to family members to start that dialogue.”
Here are seven tips on discussing when it’s time to give up the keys:
• Don’t force it: Unless there are issues with dementia or other health reasons, realize that this is a decision that essentially falls on the senior driver. Don’t come on too strong.
• Prepare for pushback: Often this will be an ongoing discussion and can’t be wrapped up in a conversation or two. Consider this a way to break the ice and get the issue in the open.
• Get their opinion: Help them write down pros and cons of driving. This approach can help seniors realize that there are benefits to not driving.
• Get checked out: Make appointments with the senior’s doctor and for an eye exam, and find out about medication’s side effects and drug interactions. Make sure the car is suitable for the senior’s physical abilities, and ask their doctor if assistive devices might be useful. AAA offers CarFit, a free one-on-one service where a technician checks how well drivers fit their cars.
• Check meds: The report reveals that 90 percent of older drivers also use prescription medications, and two-thirds take multiple medications. The AAA Foundation and AAA developed tools such as Roadwise Rx to help seniors understand common side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements and foods.
• Discuss alternatives: Maybe it’s not yet time to give up driving. For example, a doctor might suggest limiting driving to daylight hours or essential errands. Seniors who are going to continue driving should brush up on driving skills and traffic laws by taking a refresher course, such as AAA’s Safe Driving for Mature Drivers, which also qualifies for a discount with many insurance carriers.
• Explore options: Whether the senior has to give up the car keys immediately, it’s a good idea to become familiar with other transportation options.
“If you have concerns about an older adult’s ability to drive, address it immediately,” Gorman said. “While it’s tempting to put it off, imagine how you’d feel if the delay led to an automobile accident that resulted in a serious injury or death.”