Step Away from the Car

An older client had a minor accident in a parking lot and the police were called. Because of her age, the police officer referred her to the driver’s license department for a driver evaluation. This was extremely distressful to her because no one wants to lose the right to drive. However, there comes a time for nearly everyone to give up the keys and quit driving. When the person does not recognize that the time has come, it can create a major family crisis.

I once had a boss who insisted on driving despite being nearly blind. I remember cruising through stopsigns, cringing at serial near-misses in his battered car. As a young subordinate I did not have the standing to make him stop driving. Sons and daughters often face a similar situation. It can be extremely difficult to make a parent stop driving. A driver’s license is the defining badge of adulthood and independence. Where public transporation is a problem, the inability to drive is often the equivalent of being confined to the house. Even where there is a convenient bus or metro, using it may be considered to be a loss of status. Many older citizens will insist on driving despite the danger to themselves and others.

This is a time when sons and daughters must take a firm stand. It is better to have the parent mad than to have the parent drive through some children waiting for a school bus or into the front of a crowded restaurant. If the parent is still coherent, pointing out the dangers, or the financial risk, may be sufficient. Many who were alive during the depression will be more responsive to the danger to their financial security than to their personal safety.

When the parent cannot recognize a serious inability to drive, it may be necessary to pull what might be a dirty trick in less dire circumstances. This might involve alerting the police when the parent is behind the wheel, or askng the parent’s doctor to make a referral for driver evaluation. Most states have protocols for driver re-qualification when a driver’s capacity is questioned.

There are also various ways to disable the car. This may backfire if the person has sufficient means to buy another one.

One daughter took her father’s license out of his wallet. When he realized it was missing she took him to get a new license, knowing that he would fail the eye test.

It may not be necessary to take away the car entirely. Look for driver re-training courses for older drivers. Some states have lesser restrictions that can be applies, such as no night driving, or no freeway driving.

These situations require planning to avoid a conflict that might result in permanent estrangement between parents and children. Siblings have to work together. Although parents often resist giving up driving, they generally realize that there is a problem. With compassion for the parent’s dilemma and creativity in finding alternative transportation, it should be possible to ensure the parent’s and the public’s safety while assuring that the parent will not be marooned at home.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2011 John B. Payne, Attorney

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