Step 1: Have frequent conversations with your parent about cars and driving.
This creates a pathway should you ever have to have a serious conversation with them about driving. It also is an avenue for you to learn how they feel about cars, other drivers, public transportation, driving at night or in weather. It will also help you gauge if those feelings are changing over time.
Step 2: Obtain an understanding of what driving means to your parent.
Is a car simply a functional tool to get from one place to another? Do they love the action of driving, the feel of driving or the power of a car or truck? Is it a status symbol of wealth or independence? Is it a means of helping family and friends be mobile? How, when and why do they use their vehicle?
Step 3: Explore alternatives to driving for your parent.
If your parent has to give up driving how will they get to places? Are family or friends able to drive for them? Are there taxis, Uber, buses, rail, or other forms of public transportation in the area? Is there a transportation service for the elderly in the area? How easy are these alternatives to use? How dependable are they, and how much do they cost?
Step 4: Establish yourself as a passenger.
Find ways to be a passenger in your parent’s car on a regular basis. This can be Friday night movies, Saturday shopping, or Sunday sightseeing drives. Observing your parent’s driving skills is the surest way of understanding if there is an issue. Establishing yourself as frequent passenger will eliminate any resistance to you becoming one.
Step 5: Observe your parent’s driving without commentary.
This will likely be the most difficult step especially if you see something that concerns you. It is essential not to question or comment on your parent’s driving while they are driving. It is dangerous and may lead to other errors or an argument. It can also set up a hostile situation where your parent no longer welcomes you as a passenger.
Step 6: Document your observations for discussion later.
Write down your observations and note the time, date, road, traffic and weather conditions. Record what concerned you about the situation. Was the situation your parent’s fault? What do you think could have prevented it, and what contributed to it? Use this record when you think you need to have a conversation with your parent about driving safely.
Step 7: Have a serious discussion with your parent about your concerns.
Choose a quiet time and place where you are both comfortable and begin a calm discussion. Choose a single incident or single type of incident to discuss. Do not bring up every incident you have ever witnessed. Remember to maintain and enhance your parent’s self-esteem and ask them for help in solving the issue. Perhaps they just need to avoid driving at night or during congested traffic hours. Do they need an eye exam or rehabilitation driving lessons? Do they need to drive a vehicle that fits them better (compact versus SUV)? Work to find a solution that you both are comfortable with and put it in place.
If you put these steps in place well in advance of needing a successful discussion with your parent about driving safety, you will significantly improve the opportunity of having one. The discussion may never be needed as neither health nor age is a factor in whether a person can safely operate a vehicle. Yet, as we age our reflexes get slower and certain health conditions may contribute to unsafe driving. Others may require rehabilitation or modifications to the vehicle. However, no one wants to start a serious conversation about driving safety with, “Dad, give me your keys.” Lay the ground work to having a successful discussion with your parent about driving safety today.