How to compassionately convince an elderly person to stop driving

Resources to support driving retirement

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Convincing an elderly loved one to relinquish their driving privileges can be a challenging and sensitive topic. However, it's a crucial conversation that can help ensure their safety and the safety of others on the road. 

If you have a relative or friend in your life who is growing less reliable behind the wheel due to age or illness, here are some ways to approach them and resources to help.

Reasons to stop driving as an older adult

There’s no certain age that it’s no longer safe to drive. And age is one of many factors that can affect someone’s driving ability. That said, as people age, their driving abilities may decline due to factors such as decreased vision, slower reaction times and impaired cognitive function.

According to the National Safety Council, older adult drivers are involved in fewer total fatal car accidents than younger drivers (in part due to probably driving less frequently); however, the rate of driver involvement in fatal crashes increases with the 75-and-older age group[1].

In light of these higher risks, insurance rates actually go up as you age. Obviously, the highest insurance rates are far and away for teen drivers and tend to decrease throughout your life as you are considered more reliable and more experienced behind the wheel. Average rates start to increase as you enter your 70s and 80s.

Preparing for the conversation

Before beginning to encourage a loved one to give up driving, you will want to gather information and make a plan.

  1. Observe driving behavior: If you are in a position to observe their driving, keep notes of what you find potentially dangerous. Things like:
    • Driving too fast for the road conditions
    • Driving too slow for the flow of traffic
    • Not stopping at red lights/stop signs
    • Stopping inappropriately in traffic
    • Driving aggressively
    • Getting lost on familiar roads
  2. Make note of relevant non-driving behavior: You can also cite instances that might affect driving, even when not behind the wheel. This can include:
    • Issues with vision 
    • Confusion and disorientation
    • Loss of coordination or dizziness
    • Forgetfulness
    • Slow reaction time or difficulty following directions
    • Seizures
  3. Solicit third parties: If you live out of state or are not frequently able to observe changes, find those who know the person well to also make observations.

Having the conversation

For many places in the U.S. driving is a necessity for getting around. Driving can represent freedom for adults of any age and enable them to run necessary errands and participate in social activities and hobbies. 

  1. Begin the conversation early: Start discussing the topic of driving retirement before it becomes an urgent issue. This allows the person to gradually adjust to the idea and consider alternative transportation options.
  2. Focus on safety: Emphasize that the decision is about safety, not about their independence or capabilities. Highlight statistics and studies that show the increased risks associated with elderly drivers (such as the one cited above). 
  3. Listen to their concerns: Be empathetic and listen to their perspective. Address any fears or concerns they may have about giving up their driving privileges. 
  4. Offer alternatives: Often the main fear of giving up driving is giving up freedom. Help make a plan for how your loved one will still be able to access the places and things they love. This could include:
    • Scheduled rides from you or other family members
    • Rideshares (you can help compare the costs of rideshares versus car/insurance costs)
    • Public transportation, if available
    • City-supported ride services catering to mature adults. You can search for transportation in your area through Rides in Sight[2].  
  1. Involve a neutral party: Sometimes, hearing the same message from a professional, such as a doctor or driving instructor, can be more convincing. Consider involving a neutral party in the conversation. Here are some resources to consider:
    • Encourage self-assessment. AAA offers a tool called Roadwise Review that can help seniors test their driving fitness[3]
    • Consult a doctor for advice.
    • Driver rehabilitation specialists can provide an in-depth evaluation of a person’s driving. Search the American Occupational Therapy Association to find one near you[4].
    • If you’re concerned this person represents a real safety concern, you can report them to the DMV in their state. This may lead them to be tested or have to submit physician documentation to keep their license.
  1. Be patient and understanding: Understand that this decision may be difficult for them. Give them time to process the information and come to terms with the changes.
  2. Address insurance concerns: Explain that insurance rates tend to increase with age and that voluntarily giving up driving can prevent accidents that may lead to even higher premiums.
  3. Plan ahead: Help them create a plan for transitioning to alternative transportation (such as those mentioned above). This could include setting up a schedule for rideshare services or arranging for family members to provide transportation when needed.
  4. Respect their autonomy: Ultimately, the decision to stop driving should be theirs. Respect their autonomy and involve them in the decision-making process as much as possible.

Other ways to help

Let’s say you’ve taken the above steps and the person you’re encouraging to stop driving has respectfully chosen to continue driving. What are some ways you can support them?

  1. The National Safety Council offers an online course called Defensive Driving for Mature Drivers that can help drivers improve their skills and even lower their insurance rates[5].
  2. AAA/AARP Driver Safety Program offers refresher courses for older drivers that may also help them save on auto insurance while becoming a more confident driver[6]
  3. Continue to offer support by giving them rides or traveling with them on errands. 

Having these conversations early and with compassion and continuing to monitor the situation can help ensure a smooth transition and maintain the safety and well-being of your elderly loved one and others on the road.