Time to take (or give up) the car keys?

I’m pretty sure these are words that everyone hopes that they will never have to say, but the reality is that at some time during our (or their) retirement, we probably will or should.  As our parents age throughout their retirement years, we see so many changes in them.  From memory to physical ability, there is no doubt that aging takes its toll, and that this fact of life should be an important focus in overall retirement planning.  We’ve all seen the news stories - ELDERLY DRIVER HITS SHOPPERS or ELDERLY DRIVER ACCIDENTALLY DRIVES INTO GAME STOP IN TAMPA.  Each “elderly driver” is usually confused about what happened, typically stating that they meant to hit the brake and hit the gas instead.  This doesn’t even take into account the accidents that happen on the road caused by visual decline, hearing loss or limited mobility.  Here’s a short list of things that might signal that it might be time for a change:

  • Scrapes or dents on the car
  • Changes in auto insurance rates or traffic tickets
  • Reluctance to drive or seeming tense or exhausted after driving
  • Observations of erratic driving

If you’re not sure, accompany your parent on an errand and let them drive.  An article on caring.com (https://www.caring.com/articles/when-to-stop-driving) provides a list of a few signs to watch for:

  • Does he fasten his seat belt?
  • Does he sit comfortably at the wheel, or does he crane forward or show signs of discomfort?
  • Does he seem tense and preoccupied, or easily distracted?
  • Is he aware of traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians, and the reactions of other motorists?
  • Does he often tailgate or drift toward the oncoming lane or into other lanes?
  • Does he react slowly or with confusion in unexpected situations?
  • So what are we to do if we see our parents start to struggle? 

Speak up and have the conversation with them.  Imagining the consequences of NOT having the conversation should help you to overcome the trepidation about having “the talk”.   Before sitting down with them, make a plan. 

·         Build a case by sighting specific examples such as increased traffic tickets or accidents. 

·         Calculate the financial savings of not driving.  No more auto insurance, fuel bills, car maintenance or registrations fees.  At the same time, detailing the financial loss resulting from being the at-fault driver of an accident might be helpful too. 

·         Compile a list of transportation alternatives to driving.  A community shuttle, neighbors and family and Uber are all options.  While these don’t replace the independence that driving provides, hopefully your parent will be assured that they won’t be stuck at home.

Once you’re ready, just do it!  Be empathetic and non-accusatory.  Realize that driving represents a tremendous amount of independence that your mom or dad may not be willing to give up.  Be gentle and express your concern.

We can all agree getting them to go along with giving up the keys voluntarily is the best course, but what if they refuse?  This is the time when you’ll need to get professionals involved.  Your parent may more readily listen to their medical and eye doctors recommendations.  If not, the medical professional can provide you with a medical status report to provide to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The DMV can then require a vision exam, a written exam or a drive along exam to prove that the driver is still capable of operating a motor vehicle.  In some states, a caregiver can request DMV retesting but you should check with your state on their rules.  AgingCare.com (https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/Ways-to-Legally-Get-Your-Elderly-Parent-s-Keys-112307.htm ) goes into greater detail and provides other legal options.

This is a hard subject that is probably best discussed earlier than later.  Even something like, “Dad, how do you want me to approach you if I think it might be time to give up the keys?” may lay the ground work for a discussion that’s 10 years away.

Karen Rasmussen is a Registered Paraplanner with PARAGON Wealth Strategies and serves as our Director of Client Service.  For her full bio, click here.  See important disclosures on our disclosures page.