When an Elderly Driver is No Longer Safe Behind the Wheel?

For most caregivers, an elderly driver being on the road driving is among their biggest worries. Having an unsafe senior driver on the road is very dangerous as he not only risks his life but also the lives of other drivers and pedestrians as well.

According to statistics, it is more likely for elderly drivers to get into car accidents than younger drivers.  With about 500 older drivers involved in car crashes every day in America, it is crucial that caregivers pay attention to their loved ones who still drive and get them to stop driving if they are no longer safe to drive.

The risk of getting involved in an accident rises with age. However, it is difficult to ask the elderly driver to stop driving when they prove to be a danger to themselves and to others. It is, therefore, important to approach this issue carefully and only after you have established that they are not fit to drive. The following are some of the warnings by NHTSA that you should look out for to help you tell if an elderly driver is no longer safe behind the wheel.


Signs that a senior needs to stop driving

senior needs to stop driving

Driving is a form of independence that not so many people are willing to part with. There is no legal age for the elderly to give up their driving license. People age differently, and others hold longer to their driving abilities.

If you care about the elderly and wish to keep them around for longer, you should start by making honest assessments. There are two things you should have in mind when making an assessment:

  • Mental health
  • Physical health

Be sure to analyze factors such as vision, physical coordination, hearing, and reflexes. These are prime considerations for any driver regardless of age. When a driver has a challenge with any of these, they become a danger to themselves and other road users. An elderly driver must be in “perfect” mental and physical condition to meet most of these road demands. Some use medication to manage their chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, glaucoma, Parkinson’s, dementia, diabetes, seizures, and chronic illnesses that require regular medication.

Whereas the medication can control the symptoms of the ailments, some have side effects that may limit the driving abilities of the elderly.  Always check the recommendations of the drugs administered to the elderly and know the ones that impair their driving. Here are more signs to tell you that your loved one is no longer safe behind the wheels:


Driving in the wrong lanes

If you notice an elderly driver drifting from their lane to another and making zigzag movements along the road, it could be as a result of vision problems or fatigue. Good vision is crucial for all drivers. Vision problems such as glaucoma can make driving unsafe and elderly drivers with such problems should avoid driving.



Both accelerating and driving too slow are risky as they could cause fatal accidents. If your elderly parent drives at the wrong speed, they might have impaired judgment and should stop driving immediately.


Difficulty in parking or backing up

Elderly drivers may develop back problems like having a stiff back or back pains. Such issues can limit their mobility when driving and they may find it difficult to turn and look back or check the rearview when backing up and parking. This leads to parallel parking that damages the senior driver’s car and other driver’s vehicles as well. There are, however, new models of cars with technologies like back-up cameras that aid elderly drivers with compromised mobility. Seniors with back problems, neck flexibility problems, and osteoporosis can, therefore, opt for such vehicles if they must drive.


Getting lost

Confusion is common among the elderly.  It may result from fatigue, stress, or dementia. Vision problems can also make them miss road signs and traffic signals and get lost. If your elderly parent gets easily distracted while driving or gets lost in areas they are familiar with, you should immediately stop them from driving and take them to see a doctor.


Slow response

To drive safely, a driver should have the ability to make quick decisions when needed. Aging comes with various problems that can make an elderly person slow and affect their driving skills. Senior drivers may have slow reactions and delayed responses to their surrounding and this can result in accidents. Pay attention to how fast the elderly person responds and reacts to sudden movement as well as loud noise. Their inability to respond quickly is a warning that they should not be driving.


Presence of fresh scrapes and dents

Check your elderly parent’s car as well as the garage door, mailbox and fence for dents and scrapes. If there are multiple damages in these areas, conduct an investigation on his/her driving abilities. Ask the elderly driver about the damage and find out if they have recently received warnings or traffic tickets. Also, check for bruises and bumps on their body.


Frequent close calls

A rise in the number of accidents and tickets issued to an elderly driver could be a sign of a decline in their driving abilities. This decline could result from cognitive issues such as inability to multitask and delayed response time or from physical problems like impaired hearing, pain in the leg and back, and a stiff neck. Ensure that you take them to the doctor to get checked and stop them from driving before they harm themselves and others.


Increased anxiety and fear of driving

Some elderly drivers avoid driving especially at night out of fear and anxiety. If they are reluctant to get on the wheel, check their driving skills. Also, if you notice the elderly driver constantly stepping on a brake while simultaneously pressing accelerator pedals, chances are they have little confidence in their ability to drive safely and should, therefore, avoid driving. In addition, listen to what other people say about your elderly parent’s driving skills. If they are worried about their driving skills after riding in the senior’s vehicle, you should consider taking away the keys.


Pain and irritation when driving

There are various health conditions associated with old age that can make driving uncomfortable. Arthritis, for example, can cause agitation and pain to elderly drivers and result in poor judgment.  A senior driver with such conditions or those experiencing pain and irritation when driving should not drive.



There have been multiple cases of elderly drivers getting into accidents due to confusion. Conditions such as dementia can cause confusion or make the driver forget how to operate the vehicle. A common issue is confusing pedals where a driver steps on a gas pedal instead of the brake. Such mistakes are dangerous and can cause fatal accidents.


How to tell a senior that they need to stop driving?

tell a senior

If you notice any of the warnings, the next step is getting your elderly parent to stop driving. Asking them to stop driving can be difficult and most caregivers find it hard to have this conversation with their aging parents. This is because for most elderly people, giving up driving means losing self-sufficiency as well as their independence. It is, therefore, crucial that you approach this issue respectfully and with love. The following are ways to get an elderly driver to stop driving.


Recommend a driving test

Instead of demanding that they hand over the car keys, politely suggest that they evaluate their driving skills by taking a driving test. If they fail the test, they will be convinced that it is safer to stop driving. A driving test will also help you as a caregiver confirm if the elderly driver is unfit to drive. On the other hand, if an elderly driver’s driving problems are not too bad or severe, they can opt to enroll for senior driver improvement courses instead of completely staying away from the wheel. Such courses will help the senior driver improve their driving skills and update them on the current road safety rules. The elderly driver can also learn how to manage the various problems that come with old age such as vision and hearing issues as well as delayed reaction time.


Provide other transportation options

Make a list of available transportation options that your elderly parent can use when running errands, meeting up with friends and visiting places. This will make them feel calm and less anxious about how they will live without driving. It will also reassure them that they are still independent and can move around despite not driving. Some of the reliable transportation options that you can recommend and list down include taxis, rides from friends and family, public transportation, Lyft, and Uber.


Ask politely and respectfully

Aging comes with various health issues that may limit a senior’s ability to perform certain activities. These issues can also affect their self-esteem and make them feel helpless and trapped.  It is, therefore, important that you politely discuss your concerns and explain why it is best that they stop driving. Also, providing proof that they are not fit to drive may help in convincing them to give up their car keys. Explain to them that it is safer for them and for other drivers and pedestrians that they stop driving. Remember to reassure your loved one that they can still travel and go out and that they are not trapped.


Report them

If your elderly parent refuses to stop driving, consider reporting them to the relevant authorities. You can anonymously call the Department of Motor Vehicles and report him/her as a dangerous driver who refuses to stop driving. Provide the DMV with your elderly parent’s name, license number, birth date, and current address. You are also required to explain why the senior driver is unfit to drive and the warning signs that you have noticed. The DMV will then bring the senior in for a re-test. You can also opt to speak to the elderly parent’s doctor and explain your observations and concerns. Request for a letter from the doctor and take it to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Reporting your elderly parent anonymously will help keep them safe and they will not blame you for losing their license.


Help them forget about driving

An elderly driver with dementia can be difficult and stubborn especially when you try to take away their keys. However, you can decide to use their memory loss to keep them from driving. To do this, keep them busy and distracted at all times and eliminate anything that may remind them of driving, including the car. By helping them forget about driving, they will not be constantly reminded that they are not supposed to drive and will not get upset all the time.


Take away the car

Taking the car is an effective way to stop your elderly parent from driving. There are various reasons you can give for taking away your elderly parent’s vehicle. For example, you can tell the senior that their car has a problem and needs to be fixed at an auto shop.  You can then take it to a different location. To keep the car away for longer, tell them that the cost of the repairs is too high or that the repair part is yet to arrive. Also, you can organize to have a friend borrow the senior’s car. Ask a close friend or relative to come up with a story that will get the senior to lend them the car. For example, his young grandson could ask to use the vehicle for school or work. With the car away, your elderly parent will get used to using other means of transportation like taxis.


Sell their car

Selling your elderly parent’s car is an efficient way to get rid of the car and to stop them from driving. Find a good reason to get the senior to agree to sell the vehicle. With the car sold, your elderly parent will turn to other safer options for transportation.


Keep your car hidden

With the car away, your elderly parent may want to use your car to go out. It is, therefore, crucial that you keep your car as well as your car keys away from the older adult. Ensure that you pack your car away from their home or use public transportation when you visit them. If they still have their car at home, you can hide their keys or say that you have lost them. Keep the keys well hidden and take them away when they are out or asleep. This will keep them away from the car for some time as you find a way to take the car away. Also, take as much time as you can before getting a new set of keys so that they can get used to using a taxi.


Disable the elderly driver’s car

Disabling their car is an efficient way to stop the older adult from driving. You, however, need to be careful when doing this to avoid doing more harm. If you are unable to access their keys and hide them, you can unplug their car battery when they are away. This may keep them away from the car for a short while but it is a good way to stop them from driving as you look for other ways.


Get them counseling

Sometimes, talking to an authority figure might often even stubborn hearts. Arrange for meetings with a family lawyer who should lay the financial implications of dangerous driving. You may also call on the family doctor to evaluate the physical and mental state of your aging parents or spouse. Making them understand is simpler than forcing them to give up their keys when they feel confident they can still drive.


How to help the elderly to adjust after they quit driving?

tell a senior

Aging should not feel like punishment to the elderly, and not all people age the same. Life after one quits driving can be challenging to adjust. These steps will make it easy for everybody involved to make adjustments.


1. Use delivery services

You should reduce the need for them to go out to the store to get supplies or groceries by setting up delivery services for them. You can also book them home visits with a service provider like hairdressers, family doctors, and attorneys.


2. Friends and family

More support should be given to the elderly by everybody on deck. It should be the responsibility of the people around the elderly to make the transition easy by consistently providing transport solutions. The support from family members and friends should be enough to dissuade the elderly from driving if they have all they need within close range.


3. Eldercare service providers

There are many health care support and eldercare services that include transportation. If you can afford to get hired help, this will make the transition period bearable. The elderly can still enjoy their car and freedom of movement.


4. Mass transit

It also means public transportation. It does not seem like a concrete solution, but it is a viable alternative and more affordable. Forms of public transport include calling a cab, using the train, or getting on the bus.


5. Paratransit

Paratransit is a form of transport service when a driver picks the client at home and takes them to whichever destination they wish. An example is an uber ride where you can call a transportation service using a mobile app.



It is crucial that you stop your loved one from driving as soon as you notice the warnings mentioned above. You should, therefore, pay close attention to their driving skills and carefully find ways to stop them from driving. It will not be easy for them to transition from being a driver to becoming a passenger. Most elderly drivers are defiant about giving up driving because they worry about how they will get around. Regardless of how much you care for your aging family members and friends, if their driving is unsafe, they should no longer be behind the wheels. Finding the right transport solution for your loved aging ones will give them independence and also relieve pressure from the caregiver.

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