Dad's Driving is Scaring Me!

We've all seen it before, a huge Lincoln Town car weaving down the road, with little more than a tuft of purple hair or a shiny, hairless head just barely peeking over the steering wheel. As parents and grandparents age, driving can become much more difficult for them as vision worsens, reaction times slow down, and the potential for heart attacks, strokes or other sudden physically debilitating illnesses become more likely.

Often, I have children with elderly parents come into my office and tell me "We need to take away dad's/mom's license. Can we?"

The answer is usually, "yes." But only if there is a good reason. In this country, driving is synonymous with independence. Taking away the keys from someone can be a very emotionally charged issue and you, as a child, may not have the clout with your parent to be the one to do so. However, if you have observed truly alarming driving from a parent, you can contact the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and submit a report explaining your concern. The DMV will then contact your loved one and request that they re-take a driver's examination. If they fail the examination, then their license will be revoked. The identity of the person submitting the report will remain confidential. You can read more about the process at the Utah Driver License Division website.

Another alternative is for you to speak with your parent's family physician who often has a long-standing and respected relationship with your parent. You can explain your concerns to the doctor and let him or or do the heavy lifting with regard to talking frankly with your loved one about their diminished driving capacity.

What if mom or dad gets their license revoked, but continues to drive because they made copies of the keys and they don't "give a hoot about what those idiots down at the DMV say about [my] driving?" In that case, you may have to follow the advice of my elder law professor Kenny Hegland in his book Fifty and Beyond "If Mom's Irish -- or for some other reason strong-headed -- take off the plates, hide the keys, or disable the car by disconnecting the spark plugs."

This is a serious issue and must be dealt with sooner rather than later. My own father struggled with this issue as the dementia that eventually led to his passing progressed. Although his license was no longer valid, that meant nothing to him. We actually had to hide the keys to keep him, and other drivers on the road safe because he simply did not recognize that his driving had become seriously impaired by his illness. On balance, we decided that it would be easier to deal with dad's anger at us for having taken away his keys than it would be to deal with the death of a neighborhood child caused by my dad's poor driving.

One last thing: if you are the legal guardian of someone who should not be driving, you could be held liable if that person causes an accident because they were allowed to continue driving. And it is rare that your car insurance carrier will cover the losses caused under such circumstances.



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