Retiring from Driving: How to Make the Change

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
A senior woman driving on a sunny day.

Learn some tips and strategies for helping an elderly parent retire from driving.

Who among us is looking forward to the “It’s Time to Stop Driving” conversation with our elderly parent? I’m betting there aren’t many. But we’ve heard stories about the older driver who took a wrong turn and ended up in a different state.  Or was traveling a familiar route and became confused about how to get home.  These are events that make the news, and hearing them sends chills through us. For the families involved in these events, the dreaded “no more driving” conversation was likely the next step.

Taking a Different Approach

Let’s look at a different approach to the dreaded driving conversation.  While the above events do warrant immediate intervention, a different approach is one that begins long before there is such an event. This approach can set the tone for a respectful, sensitive, and supportive transition into driving retirement.

Getting Ahead of the Problem – Start a Conversation Long Before There is a Problem

In short, start a driving retirement conversation with your loved one long before there are any concerns. The initial conversation is meant to open a dialogue for ongoing conversations, and set a respectful tone for future planning. Consider it the first of many.

Your goal is to learn how they want to transition to the time when they need to stop driving. This may be the first time they considered this time in their life, so encourage them to give it some thought. You can talk about it more another time. Consider using some of the following questions in your conversation:

  • How would it feel to be losing some of their independence?
  • Would they use public transportation?
  • How would this change affect their social life?
  • Would they want to move to a local senior living facility to reduce the need for driving?
  • Are they worried about being a burden on others?

Choose the Messenger

As with any sensitive conversation, be deliberate in choosing who will deliver the message. Consider the personality and the quality of the relationship between the elder and family member. The one who can have a thoughtful and respectful discussion, and help the elder consider this change in their life is the one to have this conversation. Sometimes the best person is not a family member. Friends or doctors can be good options as well.

Be Prepared with New Options

Another important step in a successful transition into driving retirement is to be prepared with other options for your loved one.

  • Prepare ahead by asking family members or friends about their availability. Would they be available to provide transportation? For grocery shopping, medical appointments, church, etc.?
  • What ride programs are in your loved one’s area – senior ride programs, paratransit services, reduced fare programs? The local Agency on Aging is a good resource to help identify appropriate services and costs.
  • Where can you reduce the need for driving? Look for services that cater to a homebound clientele.  Options include hair stylists, grocery and pharmacy delivery services, and even primary care physicians who make house calls.

Consider a Driving Evaluation

An additional resource is an independent comprehensive driving evaluation.  Conducted by occupational therapists, and at rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and, for eligible veterans at the Veterans Administration Medical Centers, these evaluations assess one’s skills, and can provide safety recommendations.  An evaluation may also help resolve any conflict between an elder and his family about making driving changes.

You Have Planted a Seed

Having these conversations can plant a seed for your loved one to think about driving safety. It is possible they will take steps on their own to limit their driving. Equally important, with an open dialogue between the two of you, they will feel respected and supported in this transition from an independent driving life to one that includes other transportation options, and eventually to full driving retirement.

What If We’ve Had the Conversations and Nothing Changes?

Some older drivers are just not willing to make this change, despite all the respectful conversations they have had with their loved ones.  If this is your experience, you get credit for trying, but you will also need to intervene by some other means, including disabling the car, or taking the keys and/or car.  It is a moment no one wants to encounter, but safety is most important.  Look at the resources at the end of this article for additional ideas for intervening.

What About Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

In cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s, there will come a time in the progression of the disease that your loved one will not be able to assess his own driving skills, nor be able to drive safely.  Conversations are not productive at this point. In these situations, you will need to take immediate action. Your loved one’s safety and that of others will be at stake.

Some Online Resources for Safe Driving

  • American Occupational Therapy Association
  • Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
  • ITN America
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • RidesInSight

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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