taking the keys

Is It Time to Take the Car Keys Away?

At some point you may feel concern or even fear that your parents should no longer drive an automobile. This is one of the most important deliberations, considerations and possible actions you will probably face as the family caregiver.

Allpoint Home Health's Executive Director, Estee Bienstock, RN, offers these warning signs that your senior driver may need help.


  1. Frequent "close" calls
  2. Getting lost - especially in familiar locations
  3. Confusing gas and break pedals - slow responses from one to the other
  4. Finding dents, scratches on car, posts mail boxes, garage door, etc.
  5. Having trouble seeing road signs, traffic signals, pavement markings
  6. Getting angry, experiencing road rage, cursing, getting honked at often
  7. Misjudging highway exit/entrance ramps
  8. Receiving tickets or warnings
  9. Difficulty in concentration/confusion
  10. Having a difficult time with changing lanes, backing up, checking rear view mirror
In further assessing your senior driver, physical and mental condition and ability are the first factors to consider. Here are few hints from Marlo Sollitto, contributing editor of AgingCare.com to help determine your mom or dad's ability to drive:

Vision: Conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can hamper driving ability. Your parent's optometrist or ophthalmologist can identify vision problems, limitations, concerns and cautions.

Physical ability: Driving takes dexterity, ability and strength in both arms and legs/feet to control the vehicle at all times. Consider any physical limitations, including if he or she has shrunk in size.

Physical activity: If your parent currently does no physical activity to maintain or build strength, agility and aerobic ability, this should be a concern.

Diseases: Patients with Alzheimer's disease can become disoriented almost anywhere, and a severe diabetic may fall into a coma. The parents' physician can advise of such possible problems and risks.

Medications: Prescription drugs are chemicals designed to produce specific and desired changes or functions within the body. Your parents' physician(s) can advise of the side effects of each drug plus the added conflicts through use of multiple medications prescribed by different doctors, known as polypharmacy. You may also take all the prescription containers to a friendly pharmacist who can quickly do a computer-based analysis. Your parents' physician(s) can advise of the side effects of each drug plus the added conflicts through polypharmacy. You may also take all the prescription containers to a friendly pharmacist who can quickly do a computer-based analysis.

Ride along: Take a ride or three with your parent and observe his or her physical ability in controlling the vehicle, staying within the lane, how turns are handled, the driving speed, ability to scan from left to right, any visual susceptibility to glare, and for any possible confusion in traffic. Do your observations simply, without nagging or distraction. Make notes upon return, for you may need to share them with an expert.

Check the vehicle: Periodically and without fanfare, check the outside of the car for any possible dents or scrapes.

Doctors: Accompany your parent at least once to every medical specialist and service or treatment center and have him or her sign a release of confidentiality form naming you as a relative with whom they can share any and all medical and mental information without their violating federal confidentiality laws. This will guarantee that you can ask questions and express concerns privately as well as invoke professional assistance, especially if they need to be actively involved in counseling the patient to hang up the car keys.

Here is why you should not jump to a decision or conclusion that mom or dad should no longer drive:

  • Taking the car keys removes the parent's independence, the ability to drive to the market or to meet friends for coffee, to church and the senior center, the library or to visit friends. The experience can be traumatic.
  • As the caregiver, you may also have to deal with other relatives who may be too quickly judgmental and even emphatic that the keys must be taken.
  • Involve mom or dad in the consideration and decision. You may find a positive reaction when talking candidly with them, and they will understand your care and concern for their safety.

If you feel that it is time for them to hand over the keys, recognize that you may run into resistance. This is understandable. However, if that is the case, there are several ways to legally revoke your loved one's license. You just have to find a tactful, loving way to approach this topic.

For more information:

Annie Azzariti and Anna Marie Piersimoni contributed to this article.

LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment  

MetLife Foundation The Lippey Family Trust Gladyce L. Foster
California Community Foundation