6 Proven Strategies to Convince Your Aging Parent to Give Up Driving

Are you concerned about your parent’s ability to drive safely? It’s one of the most-dreaded conversations for adult children, but is a necessary conversation to have at some point for most families. Leveraging proven negotiation strategies, here are 6 strategies to convince your aging parent to give up driving, before you find yourself at the scene of an accident.

Many aging parents are reluctant to give up driving because of various fears, such as wanting to maintain their independence and not wanting to rely on others. However, for their health and safety, it’s important that they make a smart choice about whether or not they should continue driving. This post will help you learn strategic negotiation tactics to help successfully navigate this challenging conversation: Have a pre-conversation in advance (if you can), take time to plan ahead for the “giving up driving” conversation, have the conversation in person if you can, use open-ended questions when possible, leverage “no” questions if things get heated, and keep your cool.

1) Have a pre-conversation in advance (if you can)

Knowing that your parent(s) may strongly object to being asked to give up driving, the best defense is a good offense. In other words, before your parent needs to give up driving (weeks, months, or even years prior), have a conversation with them about how they would never want to be unsafe on the road and put other people at risk, so they may need to give up driving one day. Have a candid conversation about the triggers that you both agree should warrant giving up driving. Maybe it’s some level of memory loss, or a doctor’s advice, missing traffic signals or stop signs, frequently getting lost, or if they ding their car on the mailbox or the garage. That way, if/when those triggers occur, you can start the conversation with “remember that conversation we had about how you would never want to be unsafe on the road, and how if you [insert trigger], it would be time to talk about giving up driving?” However, keep in mind that dementia can reduce your parent’s sense of reason and responsibility, so depending on your unique situation, this may not be effective when you need it.

2) Plan ahead for their objections

There’s no way around it, you have to confront your parents about their driving abilities. The key is not to be threatening or offensive, but rather sympathetic and understanding. Start by thinking about the scenario from their perspective. What emotions are they likely experiencing? What concerns might they have that you should address first? Don’t overthink this though; it’s not critical that you’re completely accurate in your parent’s feelings and concerns. As the negotiating consultants at Black Swan Group say, “The attempt to verbalize your understanding of their position is more important than accuracy.” For example, “Dad, I know that being independent is very important for you, and you’re probably going to think I’m trying to take away your independence. You may also feel like I’m not showing you enough respect as the parent.”

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3) In person is best

There’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting. Since 55% of communication is nonverbal, you and your parent are much more likely to understand each other, and it offers you an opportunity to gauge how well they’re coping with the decision. Difficult conversations like this usually go much better in person. If you live far away from your parents or don’t have access to them regularly, consider scheduling a video call over Skype—or better yet, plan to fly out and spend some time together. However you manage it, just remember that trust is crucial—your parents are going to want (and need) to know that you really do care about their safety.

4) Use open-ended questions where possible

Spend some time thinking through what would motivate your parent most to give up driving. Is it their own safety? Other people’s safety? Saving money? Maintaining their ability to go where they want, when they want? Are they worried about getting in trouble with the police if something happens? Then, spend some time thinking about the open-ended questions that will gently guide your conversation with your parent. For example, “Our community’s safety has always seemed important to you. How would you feel if you accidentally hit a child while you were driving?” Or, “since you’ve had a couple of accidents in the last six months, your insurance costs have gone way up, and so have gas costs. What would it look like to get rid of the car and just order an Uber for the few times per month you go the doctor and your bunko games?” If you can guide them to think that giving up driving is their decision, that’s the best possible outcome for your conversation.

Photo by A n v e s h on Unsplash

5) Leverage “no” questions

One of Black Swan Group’s negotiation tactics is to use what are called “no” questions, that is, intentionally asking questions where a “no” is the answer you want them to give. This is especially effective when your parent is already angry or defensive, and a “no” is likely already on the tip of their tongue! For example, you may ask something like “Is driving so important to you that you don’t care if you hit someone else on the road?” Or “Is it impossible to try out Uber to get to your next doctor’s appointment?” Or “Are you afraid to call me or another sibling for a ride if needed?” You can acknowledge your parent’s feelings while still keeping things focused on your point: Listen patiently.

6) Keep your cool

When you argue with your aging parent, you’re essentially doing something negative for yourself. It is impossible to talk someone into a state of mind; they need to come up with their own idea. By getting frustrated or angry and asking them if they’re being stupid or selfish, you are giving them two options: fight back or feel bad about themselves. Neither one will get them closer to giving up driving, as that kind of negativity just pushes people away.

If the conversation doesn’t work

If the conversation with your parent doesn’t go well, then you may have to appeal to their doctor or attorney, and/or report them as an unsafe driver to the DMV, who may require them to take a driving test to keep their license. You can also offer just to hold their keys for “safe keeping”. Some families have found the only solution is to disable their parent’s car by removing the battery or installing a kill switch, or telling their parent that the car isn’t working and needs to be towed. However, hopefully you’re able to successfully navigate this difficult conversation with your parent without having to resort to disabling their car.

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Erin McCune