Is It Time To Take The Car Keys?


It’s one of the toughest choices an adult child has to face: deciding that your
aging parent should no longer be driving. Of course, age alone isn’t a reason to take away the car keys. Plenty of folks in their 80s and 90s still have their
licenses and can drive safely (and statistically speaking, teens are the most dangerous drivers on the road).

Even so, it’s important for you—and your parent—to understand that many of the changes that come naturally with aging, may affect driving ability. Decreases in vision, hearing, and reflexes; medical conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimers; and certain medications can all contribute to unsafe driving.

That’s why making sure your parent can still drive safely is something you’ll want to evaluate on a regular basis.

Red-Light Warning Signs

The National Institute on Aging notes these critical signs that a senior could be losing the judgment or ability to drive:

  • At-fault accidents or frequent close calls
  • Increased traffic tickets or police warnings
  • Incompetent driving at night (even if competent during the day)
  • Drastically reduced peripheral vision (even if 20/20 with corrective lenses)
  • Struggling to drive at high speeds
  • Erratic driving, such as abrupt lane changes, braking or acceleration,
    hitting curbs, missing turns, or scaring pedestrians
  • Getting lost frequently, even while driving on familiar roads
  • Trouble reading street signs or navigating directions
  • Frequently startled (claiming cars or pedestrians “came out of nowhere”)
  • Failing to use turn signals or keeping them on without changing lanes
  • Drifting into other lanes or driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Range-of-motion issues (failing to look over the shoulder, trouble shifting gears, or confusing gas and brake pedals)

Be A Driving Detective

The next time you visit your parent, discreetly check the outside of his or her
vehicle for dents or scrapes. Look for damage on nearby fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs as well.

Make it a point to take several “ride-alongs” with your parent to a familiar
location, so you can observe his or her driving abilities. Watch for overall vehicle control, ability to handle turns, staying within the lane, driving speed, as well as any signs of confusion, visual impairment, or slow reactions. Don’t share your  observations while your parent is driving; but do make notes about anything that concerns you, so you’ll be ready to discuss it later.

Make A Post-Driving Plan

Many seniors are reluctant to give up driving because they see it as a way to maintain their independence. Before you have the talk about handing over the keys, put together a transportation plan that will support your parent’s sense of freedom and control. Options can include:

  • A regular ride schedule with family and friends
  • Ride services like Uber or Lyft
  • Taxis or public transportation
  • Private car services
  • Ride services offered by churches, senior centers, or nonprofit groups

Your loved one will still have places to go, errands to run, and will want to stay connected to family and friends even after giving up their keys. Offering a plan with transportation options provides the reassurance that life can still be “normal” without driving.

If you think your parent will be concerned about the costs of alternative transportation, you can point out the savings that will come from no longer having to pay for gas, car maintenance and repairs, registration fees, and insurance.

The Key To The Conversation

The most important part of talking to your parent is being kind and respectful.
Acknowledge that the idea of giving up driving is a sensitive subject. Share what you observed in your ride-alongs to explain why you’re concerned about his or her safety (and the safety of other drivers on the road). Offer the reassurance of the post-driving plan.

If your parent gets upset, emphasize that you’re not accusing him or her of being a bad driver. Instead, keep the focus on specific health conditions or age-related issues that are having an adverse effect on safe driving. Continue to remind your parent that you are speaking out of love and concern.

Be Patient And Persistent

Don’t be surprised if you face resistance. The idea of handing over the car keys can be upsetting, especially for a parent who is capable in every other way
except for driving ability. Gently mention any other trusted people—such as a physician, pastor, or family members—who share your concerns and support the decision.

Remember, you’re asking your parent to make a major life change. Be patient. Give your loved one time to accept the idea, and to work through his or her
feelings. Understand that it may take more than one conversation before your parent is ready to hand over the keys, and be willing to keep having those

Hearthstone Senior Living Can Help

Regular transportation is offered at both Hearthstone senior living communities. It’s just one of the many ways our family-run company offers support that enables residents to keep living full lives. If it’s time to talk to your parent about handing over the keys, Hearthstone can help guide you through that conversation. For more information on how we can help you and your family, call or stop by for a visit.

You can meet with us or schedule a tour by calling Hearthstone of Beaverton at (503) 641-0911 or by visiting us at:

12520 SW Hart Road
Beaverton, OR 97008

Or call Hearthstone at Murrayhill at (503) 520-0911 or stop by at:

10880 SW Davies Rd
Beaverton, OR 97008

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