Ultimately, we were unable to convince Dad to stop driving on his own. Though he did not often venture out with the car by that time, we were not comfortable with a drive even once every week or two.  He stubbornly refused all our provisions for alternate transportation which allowed him to get out on his own schedule. We are lucky to have good resources available nearby that included family, friends and local senior transportation services, but it didn’t matter. He did not intend to give up his car keys. We needed to find another way.


take away car keys

Ways to Convince a Senior to Stop Driving

We decided to involve a respected third party as the next step. We thought he might be more receptive if the request to relinquish the car keys did not come from his children. Later, we tried more drastic measures.

Our situation was extremely difficult, and hopefully yours is easier. I share the avenues we explored simply to provide suggestions on possible ways to proceed with your loved one. What works for one family may not work for others; the solution is very specific to the individual and the situation.

Involving a third party:

If you need to ask a third party to step in, here are four suggestions to explore.

  • The State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

    The DMV was our first effort. When it came time to renew his license, Dad, now age 88, went to the DMV. We hoped they would test him, and based on the results, refuse to renew it. But that didn’t happen. They simply asked him to pay the fee and gave him a new license, no questions asked. In the state he resides, it turns out no special requirements exist for seniors who renew their licenses other than they must go in person. There was no driving test or even an eye test. 
  • Family Physician

    We next called his long-term doctor who’s opinion dad holds in high regard. The doctor agreed to address driving and safety at the next appointment. Dad listened and gave appropriate responses, promising not to drive anymore. However, I don’t know if he forgot the conversation when he left the office, which is entirely possible, or simply told the doctor what he wanted to hear with no intention to follow through. Either way, he did not stop.

    A few months later, we asked the doctor to conduct an assessment and provide us with documentation to bring to the DMV. This step is a drastic one, but we did not know what else to do. Of course, Dad had a good day the afternoon of the assessment and passed the tests without a problem. We were unable to get a note that stated he should no longer drive.

  • Optometrist/Ophthalmologist

    As good eyesight is essential to drive safely, we considered the eye doctor for the next step. This one works well if your loved one’s poor vision is a factor in why you believe they should give up their car keys. The appointment may provide solid evidence as to why it is not safe for them to continue to drive. You can take the report of the vision examination to the DMV. Unfortunately, the eye doctor appointment did not help us. We forgot Dad’s cataract surgery two years earlier left him with excellent vision in both eyes.

  • An Elder Law or Estate Attorney

    Dad’s attorney, with whom he worked for many years, holds credibility comparable to that of his doctor. Since the DMV and the medical appointments did not convince him to relinquish his keys, in desperation we turned to his attorney. She set up a time to stop by his house to discuss the risks involved from a monetary and legal perspective. She spoke with him about what might happen to his estate in the event of a serious accident. They discussed who might be liable in the event he seriously injured another person while driving. As Dad tends to be risk averse in terms of his finances, we thought this approach might work well. Dad listened intently as the attorney spoke, then, as with the doctor, agreed to comply with her recommendations. Guess what? He did not. Surprise, surprise.

When more drastic measures become necessary:

If you try all of the above suggestions without success, it’s time to get more serious. Nobody wants to intentionally deceive a loved one, but you may be out of options at this point. Here are two suggestions.

  • Have a family member “borrow” the car

    If the car is not in the garage, Dad can’t drive it, right? Makes sense, but we were not yet ready to invent a story; it seemed wrong to lie. It turned out my brother actually needed a car short term right at that time, so he asked Dad to borrow his vehicle for a few days. He said yes, and we thought, since Dad is increasingly forgetful, he might not ask about it. We hoped to avoid a confrontation, but it didn’t work out that way. After a few days, he called my brother to let him know he needed his car back “just in case”. He said he was uncomfortable in the house without a car.  My brother brought the car back.

  • Hide or ‘lose” the keys

    Finally, with all other options pretty well exhausted, we took the keys. It wasn’t easy because he kept the keys in his pants pocket at all times. Though he did not drive often, with the keys close by, he felt free to go out when he wanted. One day, we quietly removed them from his pocket while he napped. We did not think he would notice right away, but he did. When he woke, he realized immediately the keys were gone. He asked each of us if we saw them.

    Though it felt wrong to lie, to keep him safe, we all said no. We even helped him look. It’s been a few weeks now and he still asks every now and then, but he is not agitated. He no longer has a clear sense of time so he accepts our response that “they have to be in the house, so they will turn up”. In our particular situation, we needed to “lose” the keys to avoid an angry and unreasonable confrontation – and most importantly, allow him to maintain his dignity. 

What’s the right way to stop your loved one from driving?

Are you concerned for the safety of your elderly parent in the car? If so, it’s essential you find a way to stop them from driving. Hopefully, you will not have to take away car keys – that is a last resort.  Every situation is different and you need to find the best solution for your family. While I certainly prefer to have my intelligent, reasonable Dad make the decision on his own, I accept he is not the same person he was a few years ago. For him, a white lie was the kindest way to go.

Please share your experiences with us in the comment section below – we would love to hear from you.