When it is Time to Take the Keys Away 

In youth the initial the idea of a driver’s license stands for one thing, total freedom. Upon the onset of adulthood, however, it evolves to the notion of long commutes, traffic, insurance rates, and the occasional car accident that all become a part of the driving experience. That is, until occasional car accident becomes a more frequent event and one’s ability to continue driving comes into question. 

When people age, the skills associated with driving, especially vision, hearing, and motor skills can begin to decrease. This means that some individuals may come to a point where they should not continue driving for their own safety and the safety of others. 

While many drivers know when it is time to turn in their keys, some are either unable or unwilling to stop driving. Though it can be a painful and embarrassing experience to have a major source of mobility taken away, it is sometimes necessary for loved ones to intervene for safety reasons. 

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety older drivers need to take more caution and do a periodic analysis of the need and ability to continue driving 

"Second only to teen drivers, older drivers are the most likely group to sustain injuries or death in traffic crashes,” said Peter Kissinger, President of the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It is vital that seniors periodically and honestly review their driving performance." 

AAA Foundation suggests looking out for several warning signs to tell if you or a loved one should give up driving, including: 

  • The driver having two or more collisions, near misses or traffic tickets in the last two years
  • Difficulty staying within one lane and with changing lanes
  • A noticeable loss in the driver’s sense of direction
  • Trouble seeing or paying attention to other people and cars on the road
  • Trouble turning
  • A slow reaction time
  • Missing traffic signs and signals

Though the issue of restricted driving may be hard to approach, it is important to remember that the life of the driver, other motorists, pedestrians and even children playing in the street can all be at stake. 

Research by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that between the years of 1991 and 2001 the number of drivers over age 70 went up by 32 percent. In that same ten-year span, the number of fatal accidents on a whole only went up 2 percent, with fatal accidents among drivers over age 70 increasing by 27 percent. 

How to Broach the Topic: 

NHTSA analysts studying interventions for dangerous drivers suggest sitting someone down to address concerns about their continued driving. If planning a group discussion, include the driver’s closest family and friends. It can also be helpful to include his or her doctor, insurance agent, attorney, clergyman, or a professional driving instructor for more insight and information. The discussion should be lead by the person who the driver trusts most, and therefore the person who would have the most influence. 

Preparation Key for a Successful Conversation: 

Both NHTSA and AAA Foundation urge the value of compiling a list of behavioral, safety and medical concerns based on the dangerous driving a familiar passenger observed and access the risk of allowing the senior citizen to continue driving. 

If there are any medical issues involved, speak to the driver’s doctor and compile a list of symptoms and side effects from medication that would potentially hinder driving. Finally, prepare a list of alternate means of transportation. 

It is important to explore several options, since no two drivers are alike. Some options include “refresher courses” for older drivers; counseling, remedial training, or adaptive equipment from an occupational therapist; and limiting driving to certain locations or times of day. 

If the decision is for the driver to give up his or her vehicle or license, it is important that there are convenient forms of transportation that can also allow continued mobility and independence. 

It is best to use an honest approach with the driver. It is most effective to be direct, but also use reasonable explanations and compassion to explain the concerns to the driver. It is helpful to stress love for and a genuine concern for the well being of the driver. 

Allowing a driver’s license to expire is an easier and less painful approach then taking it away. Also, if it is decided not to sell the drivers car, it is important to occasionally track the odometer, just in case 

If in the end, the driver is not responsive to the discussion, there are also other approaches that experts speak of.

Focus groups conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration of families who have gone through this process suggest numerous stronger methods, including exchanging the actual car keys for a useless set, disabling the car, or moving or removing it. And in some limited instances families have had to resort to harsher means, like suspension of a driver’s license or, in extreme cases, involving the local police or sheriff’s office. 

Overall the process of working with a loved one to give up the keys can take time, but lives may depend on it. All the pros say to be successful you must be loving, patient, firm, and persistent all at the same time. 


Resources & Help: 

For a Free Guidebook with Tips & Information: 


For a Driver Self Assessment Test: 


Older Driver Resources from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association: