We Need To Talk
Having the Conversation About Driving
Make Your Family Conversation Productive
The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT AgeLab research showed that older adults preferred that the majority of conversations about driving be held with family members... or a physician. However, not all of these family conversations are well-informed or productive. For family members to be supportive, they need to be sure their safety concerns are valid—looking for a pattern of problems, not simply an isolated incident—and do their homework.
How do you bring up an uncomfortable topic?
Getting off to a good start can make the difference between success and failure. If subtle approaches aren't enough, more persuasive measures will be needed. Take heart. Although challenging, these conversations can work. According to our survey, more than half of the older adults followed the suggestions made in conversations about driving. Armed with that encouragement, what should you say to an older driver? Here are some suggestions that can help you in your discussions:
From the Older Driver
Older drivers may express strong emotions when someone talks to them about their driving. The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT AgeLab research showed: Nearly 1/4 of older adults reported feeling sad or depressed as a result of the conversation, but less than 10% reported responding with anger.
Older adults in poor health are more likely to have negative reactions. They may agree with the assessment of their driving ability but feel depressed at the thought of relinquishing driving privileges.
Negative reactions are often more about the message than the messenger. Older adults understand the implications of driving cessation:
- Fewer trips outside the home.
- Increased and permanent dependency on others for transportation.
- Becoming a burden to others.
- Fewer social opportunities.
From Family Members
Families also experience strong emotions. Sometimes family members become angry and frustrated, while others feel guilty for depriving their loved one of the freedom of driving.
- A calm response will ensure a productive discussion and defuse negative emotions about the topic.
- Do not postpone the conversation because of fear or guilt.
- Be prepared to have several conversations to achieve your goal.
- It is more important to avoid accidents or death than to avoid unpleasant topics
Persuade the Driver
If an older driver doesn't realize that his or her driving is a serious problem, it is necessary to have follow-up conversations with the driver, family members, doctors or law enforcement officials.
Here are some more direct appeals to help persuade a high-risk driver not to drive:
"Even if you were not at fault in a collision, you could be seriously injured or die."
Regardless of who is at fault, older adults are more likely to be injured or killed because they have less capacity to endure the physical trauma of an accident. Pre-existing medical conditions may complicate recovery or result in death.
"I know you would feel terrible if someone was hurt when you were driving."
Concern for others is often a stronger motivation than concern for self. In addition to physical harm to others, an accident can pose enormous financial and legal risks. Families should tactfully mention this possibility, but not dramatize the point.
"I'm afraid to let the grandchildren ride with you."
An older relative may realize the degree of concern when family members will not ride with them. Protecting lives is more important than protecting feelings.
"Let's talk with your doctor about this."
Blame the poor health, not the driver. Preferably, find out the doctor's opinion before suggesting this step. The doctor might not agree with the family's assessment nor want to assume the role of determining who should drive.
Discuss Transportation Alternatives
Effective conversations encourage future planning and show respect for the older adult's ability to make appropriate decisions. When you observe the older person modifying his or her driving habits, use these opportunities to explore transportation options together to give the older adult time to adjust to them.
Here are suggestions of what to say:
"If you don't want to drive at night, we can arrange for someone to pick you up."
Commend the older driver for being cautious and help arrange transportation.
"Let's take the bus so we don't have to deal with the parking downtown."
Practice public transportation together before it becomes a necessity. And remember, public transportation may be difficult or impossible to use for some older adults with physical or cognitive difficulties. In these cases, families are often the first and only alternative transportation.
"You could save hundreds of dollars if you sold your car."
Insurance, maintenance, depreciation, and gasoline costs make owning and operating a car expensive. Even taxi services can be more economical. Use the Transportation Cost Worksheet to understand the costs of driving alternatives.
"What if something happened and you couldn't drive? What would you do?"
Ask what-if questions to encourage advance planning.
To read more about
- Crafting Caring Family Conversations With Older Drivers
- Preparing for the Conversation.
- Help Beyond the Conversation
- For more information about family conversations with older drivers, download or order your free copy of We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers.
For a Lifetime Blog
Visit Beth Tracton-Bishop's blog and join the discussion about what we can all do to stay safe on the road and at home.
We Need To Talk
Produced by AARP based on information created jointly by The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab