The ability to drive a car is a lot more than simply a means of transportation. Certainly driving yourself does provide a source of transportation, but driving also provides independence. It is a way you can connect with others, and it provides a sense of identity. Driving gives you freedom and spontaneity to allow you to go wherever you want, whenever you want.
It’s no wonder, then, that the conversation about “when to stop driving” with an older loved one is a sensitive topic that may be emotionally charged. This was the message delivered by Tabatha Poppenga of the Bradley University Counseling Research and Training Clinic during an April 2018 workshop for caregivers hosted at Snyder Village in Metamora.
When a driver loses the opportunity to drive, he may experience depression, anger, frustration and loneliness while also feeling trapped and burdensome. Poppenga stressed that family members involved in the conversation should be aware of the complexity of the issue and offered some suggestions on addressing the topic:
- Acknowledge the negative emotions that accompany the topic. You might say something like, “I know you are angry…” or “I understand that you’re upset…” or “I know this is not an easy thing to talk about.”
- Don’t postpone the discussion for fear of a reaction. If you notice something, say something.
- Stay calm. Acknowledge the feelings, but don’t have the conversation when you or your loved one is feeling emotional.
- Get input from your loved one. Ask for their thoughts and feedback about the topic.
Hear them out. Consider their feedback and help identify possible solutions. Here are examples of possible responses and ways to help identify solutions.
- “But it’s the only way I get around…” Are there family and friends nearby who can assist with transportation?
- “But I like the freedom to go do what I want when I want.” Can you offer to spontaneously pick them up without pre-planning on occasion and let them choose where to go and what to do?
If you are able to identify possible solutions, be sure to follow through and find loved ones and resources who can commit to helping solve the problems. Be sure the obstacles they envision can be overcome and help identify those solutions. This problem-solving can certainly help make the transition easier.
If you’re wondering if your loved one should still be driving, it is best to observe them behind the wheel. Some indications that it might be time to stop driving include:
- Difficulty turning to see to back up
- Riding on the brakes
- Other drivers honking their horns frequently
- Incorrect signaling
- Hitting curbs
- Difficulty parking
- Struggle to maintain position within a lane on the road or in traffic
- Confusing the gas and brake pedals
- Stopping in traffic for no reason
- Agitation or irritation while driving
- Getting lost more frequently
- Near misses, while driving
- Multiple minor fender benders
- Major vehicle accidents
- Decrease in confidence while driving
- Becoming easily distracted while driving
While you should observe your loved one drive on more than a single occasion, it is important for you to talk with him or her if you’ve noticed some of these warning signs. The Hartford and MIT AgeLab offer a free guidebook to help families with this important but difficult discussion. It can be found online at or by googling “The Hartford We Need to Talk guidebook.” This resource gives you tools for having the conversation.