That Conversation – with your parents about driving

Dec 10, 2019 | Aged Care News

Australian car ownership is the 8th highest in the world. In 2018, 73 out of every 100 people owned a car.

Due to our population spread out across such wide distances, driving is such an important part of life. For our parents, who grew up in an era without facebook, uber and metro networks their cars were a symbol of independence, and a very bip part of their social and work life. 

So what do we do when we see evidence of our aging parents losing the skills that are critical to keeping them and others safe on the road?

The key here is to recognise that it’s not just about the idea of not driving. For them its marks the irreversible process of losing freedom and independence, its humiliating and quite confronting to consider the idea of losing something that has been such a part of who they have been for so long. 

So when it comes time for that conversation, here are some tips. 

Before the danger signs appear

Breach the “Driving Retirement” conversation early, you can use the purchase of a new car or conversations about others who are maybe a few years ahead of your parents or grandparents to help draw a line for the future. “When will your car need an upgrade?” might be the perfect way to open a conversation about what they would see as healthy warning signs that their driving days may have a used by date. “Mary just bought a new car” may be an opportunity to ask about Marys driving skills and what some of the risk factors are. Helping them to identify some of the warning signs will prepare them for when the time comes for them to make an assessment. 

When the time comes

Ok now that you are seeing signs that their attention is waning or reactions are slowing, here are some practical ideas to help with that conversation. 

  • Give some thought about who.
    Is it the spouse who should first breach the subject or should it be one of the kids? Is there a special relationship that exist that would be able to tackle the subject with the minimal amount of friction? Everybody should be on the same page, the last thing you need is a sibling siding one way or the other, but sometimes some personalities gell better and can navigate difficult subjects with more ease. 
  • Don’t be confrontational.
    Confrontation will cause people to be defensive, side with your Dad or Pa and use language you can both agree on. Talk about how hard it is if there is an accident and how bad we feel when something like that happens. “If that happened, you would hate to be in a position where you wondered if you should have been driving at all”.
  • Have examples ready.
    Be gentle with examples but it helps to let your Mum or Nan understand that you have seen first hand evidence of unsafe driving incidents. Help them to understand how that concerns you.
  • Don’t focus on their faults.
    It’s not about catching them out. Make it about their concern for the safety of others, the responsibility they have always taken and their example to others. 
  • Help them see it from the perspective of their loved ones.
    “I don’t know how I would cope if you got hurt in an accident.” may be a good way to break through.
  • Have a plan to handle the future without a car.
    Grocery shopping with the grandkids, making dates for sightseeing and picnics, may all be part of their new life. Have them leave the car at home for a few outings and let them get used to how their life will change.
  • Consider the financial benefits.
    Perhaps some calculations to help look at the cost savings of running the car would help towards making the idea more palatable.
  • Passing on the baton.
    Passing Grandads car onto his granddaughter may be another positive aspect of retiring from driving.

When that does not work. 

It’s a terrible thing to have to confront a loved one who is dangerous on the road. It is however better to save them from the pain and humiliation of a tragedy than to avoid a conflict if it comes to that.  The following measures are not easy ones to take but may be necessary. 

  • Confiscating keys
    This may be necessary as a final but unpleasant option.
  • Asking the authorities to step in
    In South Australia you can contact the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure 1300 872 677 to organise a Practical Driving Assessment. This request is treated confidentially. This assessment of a person’s driving ability is completed by an Assessment and Accreditation Audit Officer from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. 

When the time comes, you can not wait for an incident or a wake-up-call on this one. It could end in serious injury or even a fatality. Plan the conversation early and be responsive rather than reactive, that way you could save lives and relationships.


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