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Taking grandma's keys is a tough decision

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As drivers get older, their driving skills decline. But getting the elderly — including aging parents and ourselves — to hang up the keys is no easy task writes Harriet Baskas, author of's popular Well-Mannered Traveler column.

We asked readers to share their thoughts, stories and strategies on the emotional topic of getting an older friend or family member to stop driving. As you might expect, reactions were mixed.

"We found an unintentional hero is our attempt to keep 90+ year old Granny off the roads. Someone stole her car a month ago and we are hoping the insurance check gets lost in the mail," said liz-294151.

In contrast, says mjb08, "When the economy enables me to quit my job (now at age 71), then I'll consider giving up my driver's license. [I] drive about 40 miles/day (round trip) to work. If I don't drive, I don't work, and another whole family of four would suffer greatly."

Read on for more responses.

We stopped my elderly FIL from driving by borrowing his car and not returning it. He didn't put up much of a fight (that we know of).  When he passed away my MIL signed the car over to us as thanks for saving countless lives. MIL is patiently waiting for her oldest grandson to get his DL so he can drive her around.  She needs to wait only two more years. Her grandson has been driving motorized vehicles since he was 10 years old. Mom of 2 in Central NY

5 years ago my mother was in a life altering "at home" accident. After 5 months of hospitalization and rehab all she could think of was getting her car back (we loaned it to her much younger friend.) One day she asked her Dr. if it was ok.  He very kindly said it was not a good idea and she started to cry. As a result (he really was a sweetheart) he recommended that she go back to rehab and have her driving skills tested. He said if they approved, he would agree.  He pulled me aside and said "they never pass anyone over 80!"  Well, $300 later, she passed!!! He was astounded, as was I. (I had to let her drive to practice)  She constantly hits things with her car she "did not see". I'm afraid a kid is next! Of course, the family wants me to be the one to do this!  My last option is now I have convinced her to get a small car ... one she can SEE out of. She is the picture of the little old lady whom you cannot see driving the car. I'm hoping this is a good option, though something tells me she will wreck it just as much! — Lisa-533874

My Mom was the 'designated driver' after Dad lost his license when he failed the vision test — long overdue in my estimation, as he had been having problems for years! He had an 'in' with the clerk at the DMV, as he was a prominent man in the city, and he managed to avoid the test for many years. Then Mom started to develop Alzheimer's, and I did everything I could to keep her out of the car.

The last straw was when Mom fell, and Dad drove her to the hospital, license or no! I asked him what would have happened if he had gotten into an accident or was pulled over on the way to the hospital, but he just tried to brush it off. After Mom got out of the hospital, she degenerated rapidly, and we had to place her in a nursing home. Dad started to drive over to see her every day. We got into a big fight about whether or not he was safe, to say nothing of legal, or insured. I did the only thing I could; I reminded him that the car was in my name, not his, and told him point blank that if I ever heard he had driven the car again I would take it and sell it. After giving him a few days to cool down and think about what could have happened, he agreed that he would not drive again. And the surprise? He didn't! — David Peterson

Taking my father's car from him was one of the most traumatic things I've had to do, for him and for me. He had Alzheimer's, and this was shortly before he had to go into assisted living and then a nursing home. He was 72, I was 45 (his daughter, by the way). I could tell from the scrapes on the sides of his car that he was driving poorly; also, I got calls a few times from someone, such as a gas station, that he was out there confused.  (I made him keep a card on him that said to call me.) The last time I rode with him driving was terrifying.  Gladly, he agreed to pull over (on the freeway) and let me drive that time.

Because he was suffering confusion, and also had aphasia (stopped speaking almost entirely), it was not like a rational discussion about him not driving. It was almost a physical fight when I was at his apartment, took his keys, and said I was going to take the car. My heart is so pained just to think about it now.

I'm sure there are older people who drive just fine. I hope I'll keep on driving fine for a while, but I don't mind at all a local, city life where I bus or walk to do everything. That's the kind of place I've always lived, so I don't have to rely on a car.

My sympathies to anyone having to deal with this with a parent, and let's hope we ourselves age gracefully into not driving, if necessary, and are aware enough to know when to stop. — ks-629116

My MIL lives with us at age 85, because she's not safe living alone. However, she still drives and we worry every time she gets into her car. Since she won't give up driving, we do all that we can to drive her when possible. Frankly, I'm much more worried about what might happen to someone else because of her driving than for her.

What I would like to see is for every state to require written and behind-the-wheel testing every 5 years for drivers over 70 and every 2 years for drivers over 80. I believe that the benefit to society would exceed the cost of administrating that policy by reducing the consequences of their traffic accidents. — Jim-80129

Before my Grandma passed away, she was using Oxygen and was falling asleep often throughout the day. One day she forgot to NOT tell her little secret of almost having a head-on collision with a semi-tractor trailer truck. Well, needless to say, all of her kids and older grandkids including myself told her she was no longer allowed to drive... we also told her that we would drive her anywhere and everywhere she wanted to go ... and we did. I also took it upon myself to take her drivers license and cut it up into many pieces. You see, we were not only scared of her killing herself, but also someone else. It was hard for all of us at first, especially her, but we all did our part to help Grandma end her days with us having as much fun as possible.

Every state in our nation needs to put a ceiling age limit on drivers. ... This is my biased opinion. — Tim Gelvin

I have worked at a busy car dealership for 20+ years, and we get requests from family members to help get an older relative to stop driving. We called the DMV, and they told us if they get 3 complaints about someone's driving, they call them in for a road test. This policy varies by location, I'm sure — in my rural area, it might be more feasible. I also think there is a good reason for a minimum age on driving - not that everyone under 16 would be a bad driver, but most would. It should be the same for senior driving — not everyone over 85 is a bad driver, but most are; most are no longer able to handle a driving emergency, and if you can't do that, you shouldn't be driving. — sts

Working at a grocery store has allowed me to see numerous older folks (and I'm no spring chicken myself) not be able to stop their cars and become totally out of control, hit other cars in our parking lot, hit people as they cross to enter the store, and once a cashier who was in the middle of ringing up an order ran from her cash register out to a car, open the car door and press the brake with her hand because the older woman behind the wheel was slowly moving the car as a child was still trying to get in the very same car ... she said she didnt realize the car was moving. I see these people take a good 5 minutes to get in and out of their cars because they cant move their legs well ... and they are controlling the gas and brakes? I'm not for taking driving rights away from all older folks ... but when they can't walk on their own and cant see whats in front of them ... I think they need to be calling a relative or a friend. I honestly believe after a certain age, we all need to take a driving test ... every year.  I know it would be a big pain to do ... but I think we all would feel a little better knowing Mrs. Neighbor Magoo did ok when she renewed her license last year. — eclaire

My Mom had gotten a couple of accidents because she was diabetic and could not feel her feet. My brother and I sold her car. It was hard, but you have to do what you have to do to protect the others out on the road. My Parents are divorced, but my Father lives in the same area and said he would call Highway Patrol to stop my Mom from driving.

My Mom asked me about getting another car when she thought her health was better, and I told her we would go and do some practice driving to see about her abilities, she never would go. She was scared to drive, but wanted the independence a car gives her.

Tough position to be put in, but would you rather her kill herself or some innocent driver? — Paige-502377

Luckily, I've haven't had to try to get someone to stop driving because of age, but I don't trust the DMV to do it either.  Last time I went to renew my driver's license, there was an elderly man (in his 70s) getting his license renewed. This man couldn't even pass the vision test with his glasses on without the prompting from the person giving the test (she practically gave him the correct answers). They PASSED him, much to the shock of everyone at the DMV. I called the state office DMV to report this, they told me that htere was nothing they could do since I didn't have the name of the person who was passed (I did have the name of the clerk and the date and time of the incident). They even refused to send a reprimand to the clerk!! — Beth-482658

My dad passed away last year and he drove my mom everywhere.  I finally talked my office into letting me telecommute and I moved home to help my mom (she is 77). She rarely drives except to the beauty shop and I keep an eye on how well she does.  I usually take her everywhere she wants to go, but if I could not be here then she would be forced to drive. She lives in such a rural area that there is no public transporation of any kind. What limited transporation there is, it is designated for low-income seniors and she doesn't qualify.

Somehow we need to address the problem of elderly people who live in rural areas but still need to get to appointments, get groceries, and go other places.  If you don't live in such an area, it is hard to imagine being isolated with no alternative method of transportation.  I am lucky I can be here for her, but I quake at the thought if I wasn't! — sharonl7340

Aaiiiieeee! My 95 year old, nearly-blind aunt insists she is a "good and safe" driver (which is absolutely NOT true !) and continues to drive.

We have reported her, and the DMV has retested her — and allowed her to continue to drive!!!! Part of the problem is that, in being re-tested, she is allowed to avoid having her vision tested by the DMV [in New York State] because they will accept a vision report from an eye doctor — and somehow she has managed to produce a report that the DMV accepts. I don't know who gave her that report, or if she made it up. Does the DMV bother to verify these things?? Has she memorized the standard eye chart?

We locked her car and took away the keys. The next day she had the car towed to the dealership, and had them replace the ignition cylinder. (I guess she told them she had lost the keys?).  She is so determined to drive, that, if we take her car — she would most likely buy a replacement!

When we point out that she may injure or kill someone if she continues to drive, she becomes angry. She says that she will continue to drive even if her license is revoked. She is unconcerned about any harm she may do to others, and tells us "that is what insurance is for".

It is apparent to us that she is not operating on all cylinders (mentally) in regard to the responsibilities of driving — yet the DMV is taken in by this "sweet little old lady" (she really knows how to put on the charm, when it suits her purposes), and lets her keep her license.

We are terrified for her, and for anyone else on the roads she uses. — over 60 WF- NOT for McCain

This is an issue that is very much on my mind.

My mom has Alzhemer's and we took her car away about 7 years ago. We told her we were taking it to get fixed, drove it away and that we the end of that.

My dad is now 93 and in an assisted living facility. He is pretty sharp still, and very independent, but he is beginning to slip mentally. He is aware of it, but so far seems OK to drive. There is plenty of public /private transportation assistance available, but he wants to remain self reliant. Neither my brother or I are close by, so we cannot be his wheels.

Being in the car with him at the wheel has always been a bit of a white knuckle experience, and little has changed, but so far, his record is impeccable. How do we tell him it's time to stop ... and how do we know when its time?

I am praying, actually, that his 1996 Honda will just quit running and not be fixable. I think that will be the thing that stops him! — Amy-631598

After years of hoping she would give up driving on her own, my 86 year-old mother is no longer driving at my insistence.  She doesn't agree with my assessment of her (in)abilities, but has been compliant.  She never was a good driver (didn't get her license until age 40), and her abilities did not improve with age! The body of her car is a testament to that fact.  The stories are too numerous ... high centering on a traffic roundabout, driving through a taped off crime scene, scrapes and dents that she has no idea where they came from when you ask her about them. She had to get expensive high risk insurance after her regular company refused to insure her any longer. She lives next door to me, and my extended family and I see that she gets where she needs/wants to be. She uses a walker and doesn't even have the strength to push a grocery cart.

To try and get me to allow her to drive, she makes appointments, then doesn't tell me until right before, thinking it will be too much trouble for one of us to take her. Just yesterday she argued that she should be able to drive herself to an appointment. I told her I know she thought she should be able to drive, but that someone would be taking her. She lets every person she comes in contact with know that her daughter no longer allows her to drive and how ridiculous she thinks that is. My sibilings are, of course, in full agreement, but I happily take full blame from her for her non-driving status. I am just grateful that no harm was inflicted on anyone while she was driving and regret not taking action sooner. —  Relieved Daughter

We had this problem with my mother. We had several ways to stall until we could finally have her license taken away. One of her key fob remotes did not work; that is the one she had. By the time she got to the car and found that she could not get into it; she'd give up and go back inside. Her battery died; she would have to call us to get it charged; that was good for 24 hours or so. Then one of her tires went flat; we couldn't find the air compressor for a couple of days.

She still had her license though. Her license was due to be renewed; we delayed until it had expired, and she had to retake the tests. She could not pass the "written" test which was given on a computer terminal. Therefore, she could not take the driving test. When she went back, the agency required that she get a doctor's letter; he told me that after what he wrote, she would never get her license back.

I too was such a horrible person for not letting her drive. I don't regret it.  — Cee-323142