“I know it’s not my business, but I thought you should know your mom hit the gas pump again.”
How’s that for a phone call from the convenience store clerk in the little town three states away to the daughter who thought she had all details covered?
It’s a sad challenge for that daughter and her mom. And it’s one that a growing number of Americans could face as the population ages.
Your Folks, or Someone You Know?
A whopping one in every six drivers on a U. S. road today is age 65 or older. That’s according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. They’re documenting elder-driving data in a 10-year study called LongRoad, focused in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Denver, Baltimore, Cooperstown, New York, and San Diego.
Consumer Reports says more than 3.5 million Americans 85 and older hold a driver’s license.
Agonizing Choices and Difficult Conversations
Hear grown friends agonizing about erratic parent driving, in town or afar, and a common thread emerges:
“I hate to limit Mom’s options.”
“Why can’t Dad see that his driving’s no longer precise.”
Then listen deeply and hear the connection of car keys to a sense of worth. No one wants to trigger feelings of dwindling self-determination. Everybody laments hurting the feelings of someone else.
Every Generation Is a Car Keys Stakeholder
Giving up the car keys is a shared generational dilemma.
One generation struggles – humiliating the people who taught them to drive, and influenced their driving styles with particular kinds of cars and trucks and sports vehicles.
The older generation suffers – aging’s not easy and acknowledging yet one more loss feels debilitating.
The ask is tough.
The Time to Have The Conversations Is Now!
Interviews consistently show adult children suffer equally whether they deal up front and out loud, talking with their parents about the need to stop driving – or whether they resort to hiding the keys.
It’s tough no matter how families address a new phase of aging or health conditions.
That’s why AGirlsGuidetoCars recommends addressing the inevitable years before the need surfaces.
We’re all advised to plan ahead with advanced directives and healthcare advocates, with wills and trusts. Why not chat about giving up the car keys when the need for it seems remote?
Really? I’m The One to Tell Mom (or Hubby) to Quit Driving?
There are many ways to avoid having that difficult conversation including:
Making nervous jokes. I’ve giggled heartily when someone points out driving foibles of a loved one. Most say that falls flat.
If I stop making jokes now, maybe they won’t come home to haunt me. For instance:
“Let Ethel clear the parking lot before you get close. She’s still driving at age 91 but needs a wide berth not to hit things.” We might do better to point out the realistic danger to our family generations of having Ethel on the road.
Protecting Yourself. Virginia Berry from an Atlanta suburb chose longevity over humor and refused to get in the car ever again with her husband driving. She’d drive herself wherever they were going, a new spin on the two-car family.
Chickening out and begging the doctor to issue the no-driving proclamation. The news could come from a long-time family doc if you’re lucky to have a trusted medical relationship. Or a specialist if that carries clout.
Do know the doctor may demur, protecting her role as patient advocate, not patient adversary.
Can The Reasons Be Something Other Than You’re Old?
Real-life situations point to practical reasons to suggest giving up the keys:
- Guilty parties causing auto accidents are liable for costs that drain retirement funds, reducing options exponentially
- Personal injury in a wreck could tip the balance from staying at home and aging in place to requiring living assistance elsewhere
- The legacy of a lifetime of wise decision-making shouldn’t be tarnished over a steering wheel
Real-Life Opportunities Might Ease the Transition
- Why not teach our unsteady drivers to use ride sharing? Plenty of seniors rely on smartphones and know how to use apps. Practice with them for the fun of being in the know long before asking for their keys.
- Use the local bus or county jitney lift in smaller places yourself. Ask Dad to lunch using mass transit. Demonstrate options.
- Teach the teens to see the benefits of alone time with the elders, as their chauffeurs.
Don’t Underestimate the Will To Drive
The deceptions to prevent receiving the “no-more-driving” declaration are clever and crafty, ingenious and potentially dangerous.
Here are just a few of the ways seniors have attempted to circumvent attempts to end their driving lives and the lessons to be learned.
The Kindly Grandfather
Native rural southerner Jack Watson endured the family pow-wow outlining his driving distractions and learned they’d sold his truck.
Shortly afterwards he asked his licensed driver, teen grandson to drop him off at his friend’s place to hang out and chat. Innocent enough, right?
No way the kid knew Grandfather’s friend would sell him a new truck, right then.
On the road again was smooth and easy.
AGirlsGuidetoCars Lesson: Involve the third generation in what’s happening. Respectful of course is their role but so is alertness. Today’s elders really, truly value auto ownership.
Promise. Only going to the corner store
Gertrude Santori lived in a tiny Indiana community where everybody knows everybody. She assured her out-of-state kids who grew up there she’d only drive short distances.
AGirlsGuidetoCars Lesson: Danger lurks even in nearby, going-slow places. Assurances are not the same as safety. And–not everybody has community connections like the gas-pump clerk to make a call when something goes awry.
I’ll get certified before I drive again
Eunice Mixon didn’t want to hear pronouncements from her sons when she moved from the family farmhouse in South Georgia to an assisted living community. She took the red Cadillac with her.
Her pronouncement: “I’ll get certified and show you the proof when I’m ready to drive.”
The local driver’s license bureau had no clue how to handle that request. A school that works with drivers who have been caught driving under the influence hesitated. Technical school big-rig driving instructor complied with just one caveat: “Recommend local streets, not the interstate.”
AGirlsGuidetoCars Lesson: You never know how creative any of us can be.
The Neighbors Are Watching Out for Me
Marion Eisenstein from coastal Georgia assured her kids the friendly folks on her street paid attention when she drove off, and noted her safe return. What she didn’t realize was other observers on different streets had noticed her erratic turns and failures to stop.
AGirlsGuidetoCars Lesson: Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Plus, those keeping-watch neighbors may be in the same dubious shape as Mom.
Know Any Emotional Substitutes for Road Driving?
For my husband who suffers with foot-numbing neuropathy, golf carts and riding lawnmowers offer a modicum of control at the wheel. They don’t qualify for roadtripping, but they do offer some emotional benefits—and the chance for engagement with the grandchildren.
Have you had the “stop driving” conversation? Tell us how it went in the comments section below.