If your aging grandparents (or parents, for that matter) are like most individuals, the decision to stop driving is probably a very difficult one.  Giving up the car keys can raise numerous questions and emotions. Questions such as, “How will I get myself to the grocery store? How will I get to my medical appointments? How will I visit my friend Sally?” All are valid questions and giving up the car keys, can often represent another loss at a time of life already filled by significant losses — of independence, health, and lifelong friends and loved ones. For emotional and practical reasons, then, giving up driving is a transition that everyone involved wants to put off for as long as possible.

Grandma and Grandpa obviously don’t want to give up their independence. And aging does not automatically mean a total loss of the ability to drive. Grandma and Granpa may be able to recognize their ability to drive during the day but accept that they can no longer drive at night, travel on highways, or even drive through inclement weather. But on occasion, you may also encounter Grandpa, who has years of experience but we all know he just shouldn’t be driving anymore, yet he refuses to give up his driving privileges. “Not until you pry them out of my cold, dead hands”.

Sometimes an older driver has to be stopped from driving over their hostility and denial. It’s difficult to make this call, especially when it’s a family member used to having their independence.   However, their safety and the safety of others need to be a top priority.  An unsafe driver can cause serious damage and potentially put their lives and the lives of others at fatal risk.

Here are some suggestions on how to handle taking away Grandma and Grandpa’s driving privileges:

  • Talk to Grandma and Grandpa about their concerns. Maybe they don’t even like to drive – they may just like their independence. Help them find other methods of transportation. Apart from public transportation (train, metro and bus) there are options like Uber and Lyft, which pick you up at your convenience and dedicated programs, such as those offered by AAA, committed to promoting practical transportation options for seniors who can no longer drive independently.
  • Talk to Grandma and Grandpa’s physician about your concerns. Most Doctors are willing to take the blame and can legally restrict/rescind driving privileges, and older individuals are far more accepting of orders that come directly from a Doctor than a family member.
  • When it comes to questions, the internet is a great place to turn for resources.
  • “Taking the car keys away” may work in some cases, but you can’t outsmart Grandpa if he’s persistent, he will call a locksmith and can easily have another set of keys made.
  • Ask Grandma or Grandpa to “borrow” the car. If you just got your license, and don’t have a car, they may gladly let you borrow the car, so you can get by (or use the excuse that yours broke down and is being repaired). Lending the car to a loved one may be easier than accepting the idea of letting it go all together.
  • Disabling the car or disconnecting the car battery.  This can save a lot of feelings (particularly in elderly individuals who suffer from dementia). Let them see that the car won’t start and have it towed to a sympathetic mechanic.
  • Put Grandma and Grandpa to the test ‘behind the wheel’ in a simulator. Perhaps, hitting and “killing” a pedestrian during the simulation will convince them once and for all.
  • As a last resort, you can enlist the local police to explain the importance of safe driving and the legal implications of unsafe driving.
  • If a proper evaluation and recommendation has been made and no amount of rational discussion seems to convince Grandpa to hand over the car keys, then you may have to proceed with an anonymous report to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

As we get older, physical and mental problems may prevent us from driving safely. Whether Grandma and Grandpa are willing to accept it or not, sometimes we need to get involved for their safety and the safety of others. But also take a moment to think about the impact it would have on you if you could no longer drive tomorrow, after several decades of driving, and try to realize that it’s no easier for Grandma and Grandpa than it would be for you.