Dear Donna,

My mother is 78 years old and drives herself everywhere she needs to go. Although she hasn’t had any accidents yet, I’m concerned that she poses a danger to herself and others on the road. There have been a lot of news stories lately about older drivers who have run stop signs and ended up in serious accidents.

I want her to give up driving, but I don’t know how to broach the subject. How do I talk to her about hanging up her car keys? I have no idea where to begin.

I am envisioning this being a tough conversation and hoping you can help me find the right the words.




Advice for Encouraging a Senior to Hang Up the Car Keys

Hi Meg,

Thank you for your question. It’s a tough one, for sure! It’s difficult because it touches on a very tricky subject between older adults and caregivers like you, who want to do right by their loved ones. It’s great that you recognize the gravity of this matter and the importance of finding the right way to bring up the subject with your mother.

I’ll start right off by saying there’s no easy answer here. Unfortunately, it’s not just about driving. The topic goes much deeper into the issues involved with getting older.

You see driving is associated with independence, especially for seniors who live in rural areas across Michigan where public transportation isn’t always an option. Driving is often the only obvious way to get around. If your mother hangs up her car keys for good, she may feel like she’s lost her independence.

To further complicate the matter, even aging experts lack any sort of standard recommendation for when it’s time for an older adult to hang up the keys. Because aging affects everyone differently, it can’t drive this decision.

I can show you some facts and tips to help you arrive at a good decision.

Some Surprising Stats About Older Drivers

A 2011 study showed actual declines in fatal crashes involving older drivers from 1970 to 2006. What’s more, the decline was substantial. For drivers 70 and older, fatal crash involvement declined 37 percent. That’s a larger improvement than any other age group.

Not only that, but property-damage-only crashes also declined for drivers over 70, while they increased for middle-aged drivers.

Another study showed a continuation of that decline in fatal crash involvements for drivers 70 and older. Rates fell from 19.29 in 1997 to 12.01 in 2014. That study comes to us from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who says older drivers are mostly a danger to themselves. If someone is frail, they are more likely to suffer extensive personal injuries in a car crash.

Older drivers have surprisingly low rates of crashes (at least those which are reported to the police). In fact, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and passengers in other vehicles are more likely to die in crashes involving drivers 30-59 than drivers 60 and older.

Tips for Recognizing When it’s Time to Hang up the Keys

So I will ask you, is there something about your mother’s driving that is causing you concern, or are you simply worried because she’s 78?

If you are having a tough time deciding what is worrying you, here are a few signs to watch out for:

  • Many “close calls” and/or tickets
  • Evidence of lots of “fender benders”
  • Getting lost
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Slow response time
  • Road rage
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty twisting or turning upper body

In addition, if your mother is experiencing muscular weakness and limited flexibility, she may have trouble gripping and turning the wheel properly.

Absent any of these warning signs, it might be hard for you to make a case with your mother about hanging up those keys. Some states require older drivers to take road tests or apply for licenses more often, but older drivers in Michigan are not treated any differently than the rest of the population.

Your best bet is to use the checklist above to guide your decision. It will become increasingly important as your mother turns 80 in a couple of years. Until then, keep an eye on her habits, look for dings in her bumper, and talk to her about what you may do “someday” when she has to stop driving.


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