Checklist: When Is It Time to Take the Keys From Your Aging Parents?

Usually our parents are the ones who taught us to drive, so it’s hard to think of them as unsafe behind the wheel. While some older adults remain capable of driving safely into their twilight years, the risk factors for accidents tend to go up with age for everyone.

Here is a checklist of warning signs that may indicate its time your parents stopped driving:

  • Vision problems: To be safe behind the wheel, drivers must be able to see well. Aging parents often suffer from cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or other vision problems. Pay attention to their ability to see stationary objects on a clear day as well as their depth perception, peripheral vision, and night vision.

  • Hearing loss: Age-related hearing loss may decrease the ability to hear warning sounds like sirens or car horns.

  • Mobility issues: Older drivers suffering from osteoporosis, spine curvature, or back and neck stiffness or pain may also find it impossible to see over the steering wheel or to check their mirrors and blind spots for hazards. Severe arthritis in the hands can also make it difficult to hold the steering wheel firmly or to make abrupt maneuvers.

  • Illnesses: Conditions such as dementia and health problems such as heart disease can impair reaction times and decision-making skills.

  • Medications: Some medications, especially if taken while consuming alcohol, can have dangerous side effects, including drowsiness and confusion, that interfere with driving.

  • Damage to cars and property: Parents often don’t tell their children about their car accidents. Inspect your parents’ car for fresh dents or scrapes. Also look for damage to areas that are likely to be hit while backing into or out of the garage, such as garage doors, fences, or mailboxes.

  • Tickets or insurance policy changes: Traffic tickets or warnings from the police can indicate changes in the ability to drive.

  • Getting lost: Getting lost more frequently, especially in familiar areas, can be a sign that driving may have become too confusing for them.

Go for a Ride Along

It may be hard for you to determine how well your parents are driving without experiencing it firsthand. Ask to ride along with your parents on a short errand and observe their driving behaviors. Here are some things for you to evaluate:

  • Do they always buckle their seat belts?

  • Do they brake fully or roll through stop signs?

  • Are they using turn signals appropriately?

  • Do they check their blind spot before changing lanes?

  • Do they seem easily distracted or frustrated?

  • Do they respond slowly to traffic signals, other drivers, or unexpected hazards?

  • Do they recognize all traffic and road signs?

  • Are they driving erratically? Do they change lanes, brake, or accelerate abruptly? Are they drifting into the wrong lane?

  • Are they missing or misjudging turns?

  • Do they struggle to park, back up, or turn the car around?

  • Do they struggle to drive at higher speeds?

  • Do they seem startled by pedestrians or other cars?

  • Are they confused about which pedal is which?

  • Are they misjudging the speed of oncoming cars or gaps in traffic?

The ride-along is the truest test of your parents’ driving skills. They aren’t likely to admit when they’re feeling less than safe on the roads because they don’t want to lose their independence. If your experience as a passenger alerts you to any of these warning signs, it’s time to discuss your concerns and potentially take necessary steps to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

206401A4S 07/08/24