How Do I Know if My Aging Parent Is Safe to Drive?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 09, 2021
4 min read

Being able to drive is a sign of independence. If you notice that your aging parent is making some driving errors, it could be time to talk to them about giving up their keys. It can be difficult for elderly drivers to give up driving since they don’t want to lose that bit of freedom.

Not everybody ages at the same rate, so there’s no set age for when older drivers should give up driving. Aging affects your body in both mental and physical ways. As driving uses both your mental and physical capabilities, your driving will be affected as you get older.

Some factors that may affect elderly drivers include:

  • Slower reflexes and reaction time.
  • Loss of hearing or vision.
  • Worsening health conditions.
  • Dementia, which can affect memory and the ability to make safe decisions.
  • Weakening muscles and stiff joints.
  • Medication use, especially if side effects cause drowsiness or lightheadedness.

Drivers age 65 or older have higher chances of getting killed in a car accident than drivers between the ages of 35 and 54. This isn't just because of the effects that aging has on driving but also because seniors are more susceptible to more serious injuries.

Several signs can clue you in that your aging parent may need to reduce their driving. If you start to notice any of these things, consider taking your parent in to be evaluated by their health care provider.

  • Forgetting to signal, use mirrors properly, or check for blind spots.
  • Getting lost in familiar areas.
  • Being unable to correctly judge distances.
  • Failing to follow road signs correctly or use good judgment to make safe driving decisions.
  • Getting in small accidents or hitting curbs.
  • Getting agitated easily.
  • Difficulty paying attention or not getting distracted.

If you start to notice any of these issues while your parent is driving, ask yourself if you feel safe as a passenger in your parent’s car. Even more, ask yourself if you feel safe with your parent driving your children around without you present. If the answer to these questions is no, it’s time to talk to your parents about their driving.

Talking to your parent about giving up a piece of their independence can be difficult.

Plan ahead. Start thinking about the conversation as soon as you start to notice changes in your parent’s driving — the earlier, the better. When you start to think about talking to your parent, decide who should be the one to talk to them. It can be you, a sibling, or even your other parent. Whoever it is should be someone that your parent would be most receptive to.

You don’t want your parent to feel bombarded by having too many telling them they shouldn’t be driving. Make sure that it’s a one-on-one conversation. Choose a time when your parent is relaxed and comfortable. Make sure that your parent isn’t too tired and that they’re alert.

Give reasons. Explain to your parent that you’re concerned about their driving in an understanding, caring way. Tell them that it’s normal at this age to go through both mental and physical changes that affect driving. Let them know that you understand that these changes — along with giving up driving — can be difficult. If your parent gets upset, keep calm and be gentle.

Discuss options. There are options available for elderly drivers. The first thing you can do is make an appointment with your parent’s doctor to get a professional opinion. This can be helpful if your parent is resistant to giving up driving. Depending on the doctor’s opinion, your parent may still be able to drive in some conditions.

If your parent wants to remain independent, suggest public transportation as an alternative to driving. This way, they can get around safely without too much help. If public transportation isn’t an option where you live, Uber or Lyft might be. Some towns also have transportation programs available for the elderly to points like medical centers, shopping centers, and community events.

Many states require older drivers to get tested. You should look up your state’s criteria to make sure that your parent complies with safe driving regulations. Some tests your parent may need as they age to drive safely include:

  • A physical exam. Your parent’s doctor can assess their overall fitness and health. They can also check for any changes in health that could affect driving.
  • Cognitive testing. If your parent is having memory problems or other issues that affect their decision-making skills, a cognitive assessment can help to determine their driving safety skills.
  • Vision and hearing tests.
  • A driving evaluation. An objective third party, like an occupational therapist (OT) or driving rehabilitation specialist (DRS), can help evaluate an elderly driver’s skills. They can also go on a ride-along to see the driver in action and assess the safety of their driving.