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Is It Time to Take the Keys Away?

By Michael Plontz

Caring for a loved one requires walking a fine line. We want our loved one to maintain as much freedom as possible while staying as safe as possible. One of the difficult decisions to make­, keeping the previously mentioned goals in mind, is whether to let your elderly loved one get behind the wheel of his or her vehicle.

According to a WebMD article entitled “The Car Key Decision,” one in eight drivers in America today are over 65 years old. One in five drivers will be over 65 in 25 years. That makes this issue a big deal.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 12 states now require that older drivers renew their licenses more often than younger drivers. In Illinois, drivers 75 or older must take a road test each time they renew. Also, they must renew every two years starting at age 81, and once a year after 87. A similar bill in California last year brought about the typical politically correct opposition who called the bill “ageist.” Ultimately the references to age were deleted.

One thing remains certain. It is not an easy subject to approach with a loved one, but concern for their safety overrides that. The main concerns for older drivers are cataracts, decreased reaction times, and loss of peripheral vision. There are operations now that can fix these eye problems. Reaction times can also be improved. Computer training sessions on making quick driving decisions can improve reaction times by sometimes 40% or greater. These programs are not yet widely available, but others are. The 55 and Alive class given by AARP helps sharpen seniors’ driving skills.

However, there comes a time when most loved ones must be persuaded to give up their keys. While some give them up easily, most need persuasion by their doctor and you. If more drastic measures need to be taken, social workers, police officers, and the Department of Motor Vehicles may be enlisted to help. By filing a hazardous driver report with the DMV. They will revoke the license, and most people will comply--some with bitterness. This approach may appeal to the loved one’s respect for authority figures. 

This is by no means an easy issue or an easy task, but when the safety of your loved one is at stake, all the stops must be pulled out.

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