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Time to give up the keys

4 ways to keep everyone safe when a parent should no longer drive

In response to a recent accident caused by an 80-year-old woman injuring 11 people when she crashed her car into the Department of Motor Vehicles' office in Deerfield Park, FL, shortly after taking her driver's test, eldercare expert and gerontologist Cheryl Kuba offers strategies that can be implemented immediately if the elderly driver has become a danger to herself or others.

"If it's life and death when the elderly individual is impaired, the keys need to be given up immediately," says Kuba.

In her book, "Navigating the Journey of Aging Parents: What Care Receivers Want," Kuba tells how devastating it is for seniors to give up their keys. "My dad taught Nancy Reagan how to drive when he owned Safeway Driving School in the 1950s. You can imagine how devastating it was 40 years later to get my dad to give up the keys."

Kuba finds it important to note:

  • Elderly drivers want to be part of the decision-making process about whether to give up driving.
  • Drivers ages 65 and older have higher crashdeath rages per mile driven than all other groups except teen drivers (IIHS 2003).
  • Rates for motor vehicle-related injury are twice as high for older men than older women (Stevens 1999).

What can be done to keep everyone safe:

  •  Start the conversation. Giving in doesn't mean giving up. In other words, you must offer other transportation alternatives, i.e. taxi vouchers, bus passes, or rides from friends and family.
  •  Enlist the help of a physician. Often if the doctor says it, the parent will listen.
  • Bring in someone your elderly parent trusts and respects; a clergy person, grandchild, lawyer, or trusted friend. Nothing will pierce the heart of a grandparent more, than to hear a grandchild say, "Grandpa, I was really scared when you drove me home." Perhaps the adult children are not the right people to communicate the message.
  • Take someone else along for the ride. According to Research from the University of California, Berkeley, male drivers 65 years and older reduced the risk of fatal crash by 20% when a passenger was in the car. Let's hear it for the back-seat driver!