Maine Elderly Abuse Attorneys: When Is It Time To Take the Car Keys?

As our parents age, many face health problems that make it unsafe for them to continue driving. The experienced Maine elderly abuse attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing know that adult children often face the difficult conversation with their aging parents when concerns arise about driving safety.

By age 70,  eldercare experts estimate that 80 percent of older adults will suffer from arthritis,  a painful condition which causes inflammation of the joints and makes turning, twisting and flexing involved in driving an automobile extremely difficult.  Advanced age often brings a host of conditions which can negatively affect driving performance,  such as weakening muscles, reduced flexibility, limited range of motion and worsening eyesight.

In addition to age-related health changes, studies also suggest that 75 percent of drivers aged 65 and above use at least one prescription medication,  but less than one third acknowledged that prescription medication can negatively impact their driving performance.  Overall,  many aspects of age-related physical and mental decline make driving more challenging for elderly drivers.  In some cases,  it can make driving dangerous or even deadly. The experienced Maine Elderly Abuse Attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing understand that initiating a conversation about driving with your parents can be difficult.  We’d like to make that conversation a bit easier by providing some background information that may help inform your discussion.

Role Reversal

As parents age,  adult children often step up to take on the role of caregiver, offering extra support, guidance and help.  But when parent and adult children reverse roles,  adult children may struggle with mixed emotions.  Guilt, anxiety, anger and sadness are just a few of the reactions adult children feel when they realize their aging parents may not be safe behind the wheel.  Worse,  adult children don’t know how to broach the delicate subject of taking the keys away from their elderly parents or don’t want to tackle the discussion because it is an emotional minefield fraught with hurt feelings, mistrust and fear.  But no matter how difficult it is to tackle this difficult subject, the answer is never total avoidance.  The Maine Elderly Abuse attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing have seen the repercussions of older adults who are no longer safe to drive, and know the havoc an automobile accident can wreak on a family.

There is simply too much at stake to sweep this difficult subject under the rug;  both the safety of your loved one and the safety of others on the road.  No matter how uncomfortable or stressful the conversation may feel,  it’s vital to plan your approach and discuss driving safety with your elderly parents.  Once you do,  you’ll both feel a great sense of relief.

The best case scenario is that an elderly parent who is experiencing difficulty driving will give up their keys voluntarily.  Unfortunately,  this isn’t usually the case. Understandably, many elderly parents resist giving up their keys because getting behind the wheel of a car represents freedom – the freedom to go wherever they choose,  whenever they want,  without having to ask for help or permission.  Losing that freedom is a psychological blow that can make elderly parents fear for their independence and quality of life.  Understanding the emotional side of the equation for your elderly loved one will help you approach the subject with care and sensitivity.

Families Struggle To Take the Keys Away From Older Drivers

Plan Your Discussion Ahead of Time 

Eldercare experts suggest approaching the emotionally charged discussion of handing over the car keys with a well thought out plan.  Before you bring up the subject of problematic driving with your elderly parent,  have a plan in place to reassure them that they’ll continue to have a full social life, even if they are no longer be able to drive independently.   Have realistic suggestions for how they’ll be able to see friends, take part in activities they enjoy,  and get to the store or appointments on their own.  If you are not prepared with good answers,  you’re likely in for a battle.

If mom or dad needs to give up driving, some families create driving schedules,  alternating driving duties among family members. Other families hire helpers who drive and do errands on set days of the week.  Although it can become fairly expensive,  other families rely on taxi cabs or public transportation.  If your parents will be using public transportation,  make the transition easier by practicing using buses, taxi cabs or other forms of public transit with them,  going on special outings and helping them become comfortable with the public transportation system.

In some cases,  especially in rural areas,  you may need to find creative solutions for transportation because public transportation won’t be readily available.  Check with local churches and volunteer organizations for senior care in rural areas.  Many offer volunteer-based driving services for the elderly.  Sometimes, unorthodox solutions work well.  For example,  a three-wheeled bicycle can be an excellent solution for an elderly parent who is no longer safe to drive a car but is healthy enough to ride a bike.  This option will only work well in warmer climates, and for seniors who live close to stores, churches and other commercial areas.

Some families choose to move their elderly parents to senior apartments with on-site amenities, or to an area within walking distance of shops, churches and hospitals. Being able to walk to the hair salon,  doctor’s appointments,  church services,  etc,  takes away the added pressure of needing to drive in order to complete the routine tasks of daily living.  No matter how you solve the driving problem,  make sure your elderly parent has a good plan in place to stay active and socially engaged.  No one should be asked to give up their keys without knowing how they’ll remain active and involved with their friends and family.

Who Will Your Parent Respond Best To?

Before sitting down with your aging parents to discuss concerns about their driving abilities,  there are several considerations to bear in mind.  First,  think about who your parent responds best to in emotionally charged discussions.  A doctor or trusted family friend may be less threatening and hold a neutral position of authority when it comes time to discuss their driving abilities.  If a doctor tells your elderly parent they are no longer safe to drive,  that may effectively let you off the hook.  The doctor will take on the role of  “the enforcer”,  and you can take on the role of the proactive problem solver who arranges transportation and helps your parent adjust to life without driving.

If you suspect your parent will not react well to the suggestion that they are not safe to drive,  choose your conversation style and methods with great care.  Don’t antagonize or lecture your parent about giving up the keys.  Be sensitive to the fact that losing the ability to drive is a difficult part of aging.  One conversation may not be enough to solve the driving issue.  Instead,  it may be wise to bring up your concerns over time,  asking questions like, “It seems like it’s more difficult for you to drive at night.  How are you feeling about your eyesight?”  Or,  “People sure drive fast nowadays.  Have you had problems driving on the highways?” Lastly,  you can always offer rides,  saying things like, “I always like to spend extra time with you.  Is it OK if I pick you up this time so we can have time in the car together to visit?”

Before you have any discussion about driving safety, think about your parent’s personality type. For example, if your parent is generally concerned for the safety and well being of others,  try appealing to their conscientious nature and natural concern for others. Give examples of times when their driving hasn’t been safe, and let them know that you are concerned they may hurt someone else in an automobile accident. In some cases, appealing to a parent’s concerns about personal liability and protecting their finances or financial legacy may be more effective. If that is the case for your elderly parent,  point out that if they get behind the wheel and injure another driver,  they could lose money or jeopardize their assets. 

The experienced Maine Elderly Abuse attorneys of Hardy, Wolf and Downing know that there’s no one way to approach this difficult subject. Every older adult is unique, as is every family. If you’re patient and loving and determined to approach this difficult subject with care and concern, you’ll eventually find a solution that works for your family.

Sometimes,  taking your parents for a vision screening when it’s time to renew their driver’s license is one simple approach if it’s truly time to take the keys away.  For example, if their eyesight has deteriorated,  some states may not renew their driver’s licenses.  Although most states do not require road tests for elderly drivers,  most states require some sort of vision screening for driver’s license renewals. Maine,  for example,  requires vision screenings for drivers license renewals every year after age 62. Making sure your parent stays up to date on their driver’s license renewals and vision screenings is one way to ensure they’ll stay safer behind the wheel.

Maine Drivers License Renewal Laws

Maine elderly abuse attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing know that not every elderly driver is a dangerous driver. It’s important to note that age alone can not predict who is safe behind the wheel and who isn’t.  An 85-year-old driver may be safer than a 65-year-old driver who suffers from medical problems, or one any aged driver who texts behind the wheel.  Using common sense,  and looking for signs of poor driving,  can help you determine whether or not you have cause to worry about your elderly parent’s driving ability.  If you don’t live near your elderly parent but worry they are not safe behind the wheel,  check in with neighbors,  friends and their medical provider for potential insight into problematic driving behaviors.

Signs of Dangerous Driving Behaviors In the Elderly

  • Other drivers frequently honk while your parent is driving (or your parent complains other drivers are rude, impatient or always honking at them).
  • Driver struggles at higher speeds but does well on local roads.
  • Driver has deteriorating vision or complains about driving at night.
  • Driver gets lost often,  even in familiar areas.
  • Driver expresses concern about driving,  is fearful about driving or refuses to drive to new places.
  • Family members or friends have expressed concerns about a driver’s ability to drive safely.
  • Driver has been involved in accidents or received tickets.
  • Driver is no longer able to physically maintain automobile (pump gas,  check windshield washer fluid) or move easily (to put on a seat belt, turn to look for oncoming traffic, adjust mirrors, grip steering wheel).
  • Driver seems confused during long phone conversations. (As one eldercare expert points out,  it is easy to “fake” cognitive ability in shorter conversations,  but mental deterioration almost always shows up in conversations longer than 20 minutes.)

Tips For Taking the Keys

If you feel your elderly parent is not safe behind the wheel and you need to take the keys,  eldercare experts have suggestions to make the process smoother.  Don’t expect it the process to be easy,  but know it’s vitally important to the safety of your loved one and other drivers on the road to tackle this difficult and emotionally charged subject.

  • Remember,  this conversation isn’t any easier for your loved one than it is for you.  No one wants to lose their independence,  and losing the ability to drive is tough.  Let the reality of the situation sink in,  and don’t take a scolding attitude towards your parents.  That probably didn’t go over well with you when you were a teenager,  and it won’t go over well with them either!  Empathy will likely get you farther than a harsh attitude.
  • Appeal to their better nature – remind them of any fender benders,  tickets or problems they’ve had driving.  Remind them how much you care about them and their safety,  and that when they don’t have to worry about driving,  they’ll have more time to enjoy life without being afraid of hurting themselves or someone else when behind the wheel.
  • Suggest modifications to driving habits if that is appropriate to your parent’s situation.  For example,  if high speed or night driving is a problem,  suggest they limit their driving to daytime hours on familiar roads only.
  • Agree ahead of time when it will be time to give up driving altogether.  If you have a discussion with your elderly parents before there is a problem and agree on set parameters for giving up driving,  the situation should be much easier.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile accident,  it is important to contact the experienced Maine personal injury attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing.  We know how to handle insurance companies,  and get you the compensation for your pain and suffering that you deserve.  No matter what type of accident or personal liability issue your family is facing,  our personal injury team can help you sort out the facts and get the fair treatment and best result for your case.

The Maine Elderly Abuse Attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing provide our blog as a service to our clients.  They are meant to be purely informational. If you or a loved one has been in an accident or has been involved in a crash as a result of distracted driving and would like a free consultation with a personal injury attorney, please call our firm today at 1-800-INJURED to start understanding your legal rights.