Stephanie Steinbeck: When older parents cling to the keys

Stephanie Steinbeck - Contributing columnist

“It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.”

— François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

A local woman called me recently to share concerns about her 85-year-old stepmother’s driving. “I’m terribly worried,” she said. “Martha has been involved in a number of minor incidents and even side-swiped another car. I’ve told her I think it’s time she stop driving, but she just won’t consider it. Now what do I do?”

What an uncomfortable position for a very caring and concerned stepdaughter – and how equally uncomfortable for Martha, who feels that her family is pressuring her to give up her independence. Martha’s stepdaughter asked me, ““How can I help her decide for herself that the time has come to stop driving? And what can I do if she won’t?”

As a daughter myself, I admire this woman’s compassionate approach in wanting to help her stepmother make her own choices. Let’s face it — these family discussions about retiring the keys are challenging for everyone involved. Change can be so difficult, and is always harder when foist upon us than when we can arrive at our own conclusions.

How can an adult child help their older parent make a smart, well-informed decision about when it’s time to stop driving?

You might suggest that Mom or Dad obtain an objective opinion from a third party that can assess the safety of their vehicle and their on-road driving skills. The DRIVE program at Grady Memorial Hospital, which is funded in part by a grant from SourcePoint, can do just that.

The assessment begins with a full physical evaluation and an on-road assessment. DRIVE program staff can then provide recommendations on driving ability plus advice on how to adjust the vehicle’s seat, mirrors and other equipment to make the older driver as safe as possible while on the road. DRIVE can provide your parent with an unbiased professional opinion on whether it is safe to remain behind the wheel without feeling pressured or judged by family members.

In addition to the DRIVE program, there are other community resources that can help an older parent make an objective decision about driving ability, including CarFit, a program available through SourcePoint and AAA. (For information on CarFit, the DRIVE program and other resources for driver assessment, contact our aging specialists at 740-363-6677.)

Even after an objective assessment and your impassioned pleas, the fact remains that your older parent is an adult, and the decision to stop driving is theirs to make. Adult children like Martha’s stepdaughter often find that, despite a pattern of minor accidents or declining health, their parents insist on taking the wheel.

What is a son or daughter to do when, despite our advice, an older parent continues to drive?

First and foremost, don’t give up. Continue the conversation, sharing your concerns calmly as situations arise. Over time, your parent may rethink their decision. In the meantime, do your best to accept their decision. Unless they suffer with cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias, our parents have the right to make their own decisions — and as their children, we have the right to disagree. It is important not to blame yourself for their choice or for its ramifications. Give yourself credit for having made the effort to persuade them to stop; that alone is a difficult step that many adult children will not find the courage for. Find a friend, sibling or even a professional to talk with to share your concerns and express your frustrations, as you would with any challenging situation.

Finally, a word to the wise: Remember that even though you may be very unhappy with your parent’s decision or behavior, they are still your mom or dad, and they deserve your kindness and respect.

If you have any questions related to senior driving, please call and speak with a member of our professional staff. SourcePoint’s mission is to help our community live well after 55, and when we can’t assist with your aging-related needs directly, we can almost always refer you to an agency or business which can be of service. With any question regarding aging, we hope you’ll think of us as your first resource for advice and assistance. The number to call is 740-363-6677, or visit us online at

Stephanie Steinbeck

Contributing columnist

Stephanie Steinbeck is director of communications & development at SourcePoint.

Stephanie Steinbeck is director of communications & development at SourcePoint.