We all remember how we felt when we got our driver’s license as a teenager, that feeling of “being a grownup”, that sense of independence. Becoming a licensed driver is the first taste of independence that most experience. Conversely, when is it time to stop driving? This question is a difficult one as most of us would see this as a serious loss of independence. The question looms even larger when the driver is our parent.
Not being able to drive raises practical questions; “how will Mom get to her physician appointments or the grocery store”? It can also represent another loss at a time of life already buffeted by major losses — of independence, health, and lifelong friends and loved ones. For practical and emotional reasons, then, giving up driving is a transition that everyone involved wishes to put off as long as possible. It’s no wonder that many adult children and spouses say that taking away the car keys was among the hardest things they ever had to do. Still, if you are concerned about your Mom and her ability to drive, it’s important not to ignore it.
Below are some questions to ask to help you decide if it’s time for your Mom to stop driving:
- Take a drive with your Mom and observe her driving skills. Does she seem anxious; does she lean forward in the seat and appear worried?
- Pay attention to see if she is reluctant to drive. Does driving make her nervous or uncomfortable?
- Watch for slowed response time when driving.
- Notice her awareness of the driving environment. Does she tailgate; does she drift into another lane?
- When she’s not with you, walk around her car and look for signs of damage.
- If you’ve noticed some problems with driving, ask her if she has gotten any tickets or if her car insurance rates have gone up.
- Check with her trusted friends and neighbors. They may not feel comfortable reaching out to you, but if you approach them and they have concerns, they will likely tell you what the issues are.
- Does your Mom have health problems that cause weakness or tremors? Does she have problems with vision loss due to glaucoma or macular degeneration? Does she have hearing loss that may make it hard for her to notice horns or emergency vehicle sirens?
If you notice problems with any of the items listed above, it’s time to sit down and talk to your Mom about what you see. Expect that Mom will have objections and try to minimize any of the problems you notice. Remember, this is an issue that will make Mom feel like she is losing her independence. Be prepared for a long discussion and keep reiterating your concern for her safety. Also be prepared to address how she can access transportation for basic activities of daily living like trips to the grocery, physician, Church or other events. It may take several conversations, but be persistent. In the end, your primary concern if her safety.