“Having the Talk” Series: Driving Edition

by: Kathy Corbett | in Having the Talk, Wellness

woman with keys

“Having the talk” about driving with a parent can arguably be more complex because of what relinquishing a license forces us to confront. 

Aging presents so many milestones that affect older adults and their families, many of which are medical-related or result from the loss of physical capabilities that necessitate reliance on others.  As difficult as these may be, they do come with fairly clear parameters for deciding when an issue is significant enough to warrant a change.   “Having the talk” about driving with a parent can arguably be more complex because of what relinquishing a license forces us to confront. 

As teenagers, getting our license is a rite of passage.  A newfound freedom that grants us independence and entry into places and experiences we’ve never had before.  Some anticipate it for years and most celebrate it when it finally happens.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise when giving up this privilege is just as emotional.  This is not easy for anyone involved, the driver or the concerned family member, but the importance of this talk cannot be underestimated.  Here are some things to consider that can help you prepare for this emotional conversation.

Things to Consider When Preparing to Talk to Your Parents About Driving

Safety is paramount—Sparing you or your loved one from an awkward conversation is not worth the danger that comes with leaving safety to chance.  The role-reversal between adult children and their aging parents is not easy, but always remember that you are doing what is in their best interest, just as they have tried to do what’s in yours.  Remind them that many of us will be in their shoes and there is no reason to be embarrassed.  It is a difficult, but natural part of aging.

Ask questions—The conversation should be just that, a dialogue that focuses on how the person is feeling about driving, and not a speech about your reasons for wanting them to stop.  Their response might just make for a nice way to begin the conversation.  If it doesn’t because they don’t see any problems, then you can offer your observations and let them react to those.  Also consider attending a medical appointment and involving the doctor in the conversation. 

Be specific—This may not feel comfortable, but if the conversation isn’t going well, you may need to cite examples to substantiate why you’re so concerned about safety.  Do this with compassion and emphasize how much you care, but in the end, safety must prevail over the temporary discomfort that surfaces during the conversation.  Mention how it’s often other drivers that cause issues and make quick response times so crucial. Remember that you cannot lean on the DMV to keep your loved one safe unless the timing happens to be when an in-person test is required.

Provide options—It is one thing to want someone to stop driving, but without finding solutions for the practical issues this creates, the idea will be met with more resistance.  The emotional toll this topic can take is what we think of most, but the logistical piece needs to be thought through just as much.  Come up with a plan before having the talk, so that the conversation can end on a reassuring note.

Warning Signs: How to Know When its Time to Talk with Your Parent about Driving

Keep these signs of trouble in mind as you determine when the talk is needed:

  • Delayed reaction time 
  • Inability to maintain a consistent speed
  • Nervousness when changing lanes or at intersections
  • Becoming lost in areas that should be familiar
  • Being flustered by light traffic or other innocuous conditions
  • Hesitation when turning or merging
  • Near or actual accidents

It is not easy to approach this subject alone, so engage friends or family members if you think it would help.  Keep in mind that it’s very likely your loved one already knows there is an issue but has been struggling with denial and fear. Once you’ve had the talk, you may not be the only one relieved—it’s very likely your loved one will be too.  

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