How to get your parent’s car keys

How to get your parent’s car keys

When I was 14, I’d come home from my morning paper route with the family still in bed, quietly take my mom’s car keys out of her purse and proceed to drive our VW bug in first gear around our yard in Portland; very daring and my parents never found out. Forty years later, it took an equal amount of daring to try to get my mother’s keys, but this time, to keep her from getting behind the wheel. How’d that go? Here’s what happened.

Well into her 80s, she entered a “Y” intersection and had a head-on collision in which she broke her neck. Determined to purchase another car after recuperating, we had frequent conversations about safety. No amount of discussion deterred her – she would have to come to the conclusion on her own.

The day she gave up her keys, she explained that though she had been driving for some time with one eye shut to keep things in focus, the final straw came when she couldn’t feel the pedals due to neuropathy in her feet. Only then did she sell the car. Whew!

So how about you? The driving discussion has to be broached sooner or later. It’s not about age – it’s about ability. Setting expectations and benchmarks will help move the conversation to the front burner when the time comes.

Warning Signs

Here are things to look for in yourself, spouse or parent:

  • Difficulty looking over the shoulder to get a full view of surroundings
  • Feet, legs and hips that have lost feeling and strength to move easily from gas to brake and back again
  • Slow reaction time to avoid vehicles, obstacles and pedestrians
  • Hazardous lane changes
  • Running stop lights and signs
  • Stopping in the middle of intersections
  • Drifting in traffic
  • Getting lost in common surroundings
  • An increasing number of near misses
  • Mistaking one pedal for the other

Being proactive can help the driver and the family gauge abilities that help benchmark and track physical and mental capacities.

  • Get an annual eye exam to update prescriptions or schedule procedures like cataract surgery.
  • Keep glasses, headlights and windows clean.
  • Turn up the brightness on the dashboard instruments
  • Get checked for hearing impairments and buy hearing aids, if necessary
  • Stay limber with regular stretching exercises
  • Only drive, particularly long distances, when feeling rested
  • Avoid driving when starting new medical prescriptions known for side-effects

The Car

My grandfather drove his manual shift Rambler with no power steering or power brakes. It was a titanic physical struggle maneuvering that giant block of steel. Even with modern vehicles, think about these tips to make driving easier:

  • Buy a car loaded with power steering, brakes, seats, mirrors and windows to get the perfect fit to your vehicle.
  • Buy a car that has sufficient height to see and be seen.
  • Don’t get distracted by GPS devices, cell phones or maps. Pull over to get your bearings.

The Move

If it’s time to leave the car behind, it also may be time to move to a continuing care facility or at least a new home located in a community with public or social service transportation.

The trend of seniors moving back to the city continues to grow. Relocating can have the benefit of more things to do, greater social contacts, close proximity to health care facilities and easy access to airports, busses and trains.

The Talk

  • Be calm, rational, respectful and caring
  • Refer to the benchmarks of safe driving
  • Agree to taking a driving test or attending a driver safety course
  • Start talking about life off the road and how to make it work
  • Talk about the savings (e.g. no car payments, no maintenance and no auto insurance premiums that rise as you enter those older decades)
  • Start using alternative transportation to start a transition (e.g. friends, busses, taxis, walking, car pooling, etc.)
  • Be honest about the warning signs when they appear

If the person can’t drive safely but won’t relent, enlist the family, police or a doctor to intervene. Ultimately, someone may have to simply take the keys or disable the car. When safety and the safety of others are at stake, sometimes you just have to be the adult.

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