Elderly Driving: When To Ask Aging Relatives For The Keys

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — It may be one of the most difficult conversations to have with an aging parent: is it time to hand over the car keys?

I learned firsthand how tough it can be getting older and still getting behind the wheel of a car.

It felt like I belonged in the hospital, and certainly not behind the wheel of a car. It was the way you feel after the accident, not before.

It would be comical if it weren’t so deadly serious. As part of Liberty Mutual Insurance’s exhibit at Grand Central, I got a chance to put on what is called a “senior simulator suit” to get a sense of how some elderly people may feel while driving.

It was exhausting.

They put 40 to 50 pounds of weights on me to restrict my movements, and to simulate arthritic knees and hands and back problems. That’s not to mention the visually impairing eyewear, that caused me to lose center vision and leave me with nothing but peripheral vision.

After the incredibly tough job of getting into the car, putting on my seat belt and adjusting my mirrors, then came the scary part.

“Imagine an emergency occurs – you’ve got to get to the gas and the brake almost instantaneously,” Liberty Mutual’s Dave Melton said. “With the restricted mobility we’ve given you, it’s tough to do.”

Of course, not all seniors are as impaired as I was, but drivers over 65 have the second-highest number of car accidents, right behind teenagers.

So how do you talk to an elderly relative about handing over their car keys?

“We prefer to have the conversation early – talk when they’re in the 50s, 60s, 70s,” Melton said. “We’ve done focus groups – seniors want conversation, children are afraid to have them.”

After wearing the senior simulator suit like I did, 18-year-old Norris Campbell said he learned a lot.

“Now I know how it feels. Now I am going to call my grandmother in England,” Campbell said. “I want someone else to drive for her.”

It may be a tough conversation to have, but it’s also clearly one worth having.

In the tri-state area, there is no mandatory safety testing for older drivers renewing their license.

If you’d like more information on how to talk to an elderly relative about driving, click here.

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  • Frank Verano

    I am 93 and still driving but I do see the end coming.

  • Ryan

    I am not advocating that someone cannot drive when they turn a certain age. I would never support laws that would have your license revoked once someone became a certain age.
    But you brought up an interesting point and that is “The time to stop driving is when there is a loss of sight or coordination.” But there are no tests for coordination. Simply pass the eye exam and you can get renewed for another 2 or 4 years. When your coordination fails, it may be too late for someone or someone’s kid or family.
    Once a person turns a certain age say 70 they should still have all driving privileges but they should have to submit to a state driving and vision test every year or at the very least every 2 years until they decide to stop driving or the state decides you are no longer competent as a driver. What would be the harm in that?

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  • Rem

    There’s no way you can convince seniors to give up driving. Solution: have car manufacturers produce a senior-friendly vehicle. If they can produce a car that drives by itself, why can’t they produce one that is much easier and safer for seniors to drive. Seniors are another target consumers for them.

  • chris

    I don’t want to have to tell my dad about this when the time comes… Sad…

  • Gene

    Yep, it’s a bummer, but it is a fact. I am 69, retired, and drive a LOT. I live alone and dont care much for TV and internet, so I hit the road often. I honestly think I am 90% as proficient behind the wheel as when I was 25, but I do have some neck stiffness from time to time, which prohibits total freedom to turn my head. Because I do drive so much, I feel that has helped keep my reflexes as good as I think they are. Hearing and vision (with specs) is as good as always. I think I should be good for another 15 or 20 years if nothing changes much.

  • jay

    my 23 year old friend was killed by a elderly driver when she try to turn into an alleyway…its messed up but i dont think the elderly should drive at all after 60..if so they should drive smaller cars and not big v-8 powered vehicles

    • teddy

      60? I’m 65 and serve 350 people full time as a computer help desk technician crawling under desks and on my back, lifting equipment loading and unloading delivery trucks, etc. They need to cut off your legs when you reach 30, Jay Jay. Who the hell drives V-8 powered cars these days? The one and only accident I had was at age 24 when somebody stopped in the middle of a parkway at a Y decision point and I was 3 cars back in the pileup.

  • Ryan

    Why don’t insurance companies price these seniors out of driving by increasing their policies incrementally once they turn a certain age let’s say when they turn 70? Price them out of coverage like my son who is 18 years old. He has completed drivers training and never had an accident or ticket. I mean if seniors are 2nd behind teen accidents.
    Also the states are partially responsible too. My 82 year old mother and father should put up the keys but they just renewed her for another 4 years. We have an 8 year old we won’t let get in a car with them because she is dangerous but feels as long as the state is allowing them a license there is no problem.
    Once a person turns 70 they should be given a license that expires every 2 years. Once they turn 80 the license should expire every year until they take the test again and pay the $50 for renewal. Currently in my state if they can pass the eye test they are able to renew, ridiculous! Eye tests have nothing to do with coordination and reflex responses. I think Insurance companies or the states should be held more accountable.
    Why is it my responsibility to have my parents “hand over the keys” I have had that conversation numerous times and I am powerless and both my parents feel attacked. They feel as long as they can pass state requirements they are fine BUT they are not fine! I hope they don’t kill you our one of your family members but if they do I am sorry for your loss but they won’t stop driving.

  • Jim McMillan

    How come the insurance company charges a higher rate for drivers under 25 but not for those over 65? If both have high accident rates? This would lower the premiums for drivers not involved in accidents. I guess the insurance companies are scared of Grandmothers. The rent is too damn high!

    • Donone2

      Seniors may have more accidents per mile driven but they drive far fewer miles. The sheer number of seniors insured is so great that it makes sense to insurance companies to attract them with lower rates. Insurance companies have people that analyze fully the positions they take. Seniors for them are good business.

  • Abigail

    It is very difficult for many seniors to give up driving. For two of my senior family members it was not something they would willingly do, so we approached the motor vehicles branch (canadian province) with a written request that they retest our family members due to our concern for their safety and the safety of the public (one of them almost hit a group of children). Believe me, their driving was awful. Both were 80, both failed and both lived a long life. There comes a time, when we must give up driving regardless of how hard that may be.

  • Ken Coon

    I am 70 years old. I drive a stick shift in heavy traffic regularly. I really don’t want someone deciding that it is time for me to stop driving because of my age.
    The time to stop driving is when there is a loss of sight or coordination. That is the time to talk to someone, not when they reach a certain age.
    I also have had no accidents.
    Oh yes, I am driving in Manila, Philippines.

  • Darnott

    It depends on the physical condition of the person. You could have an 85 yr old with the comprehensive agility of a 60 yr old or even younger. What are you going to do – set the bar at 60 and say, “no more driving for you” and “now you can’t drive to work” but even if you can’t “we’re still not going to compensate you with social security increases for all the years you’ve put in,” so in essence, “you’re done. Die already.”

  • Jeff Alterman

    Is isn’t easy to tell an aging parent or relative to stop driving, but it is important to know when to say when and tell the aging person to give up driving because they are putting themselves and others at excessive risk of getting injured or killed.

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