Talking about driving with seniors

“Don’t tell us that we are too old to drive, just get out of the way.”
“Don’t tell us that we are too old to drive, just get out of the way.”

by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation

Since an older driver may not be aware of his or her limitations or may be reluctant to talk about them, it is important to introduce the subject of driving issues gently. You can do several things to increase the likelihood that conversations about driving will go well.

Start with a one-on-one conversation. To lead the conversation, pick someone in the family or a trusted friend who the older adult driver may listen to more than others. If possible, identify a person who has already had to cut back on or stop driving and who is taking actions to stay connected to the things that are important to him or her.

In some families, it works better to have just one person have the conversation. In other families, having several family members express their concern will underscore the family’s concern for the older person’s safety. However, avoid holding a large family meeting and “ganging up” on the older driver. You are not trying to stage an “intervention.”

Focus on safety. Explain that the safety of the driver and others, and not necessarily giving up driving, is the immediate goal. Modifications may help keep the driver safe.

Focus on maintaining the older adult’s independence. Make clear that the goal is for the driver to be able to continue the activities he or she currently enjoys while staying safe. Offer to help support the person stay independent. For example, you might say: “I’ll help you figure out how to get where you want to go if driving is not possible.”

Be positive, supportive, and affirming. Appreciate the significance of a driver’s license to the older person. Be sympathetic with the person and be sensitive to their feelings about having to restrict or eliminate an activity that has been an important part of their independence. Listen with compassion and work with them to find solutions.

Avoid Confrontation. Use “I” messages rather than “You” messages. Don’t be put off by negative reactions.


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