Having the difficult driving conversation with a loved-one can be reminiscent of the last time you had a tooth pulled. Asking your mother or father to consider retiring from what has probably been a long and successful driving career has the potential of being a very emotional and uncomfortable conversation. In this article, we will present some valuable tips on how to have the difficult driving conversation.
For some families, having discussions with the older driver about driving restrictions or driving cessation will come almost naturally and with minimal challenges. With other families, having these discussions will immediately be met with opposition, bitterness, animosity, and sometimes even anger. Sadly, the driving issue has, in extreme cases, driven a divisive and permanent spike between family members.
Develop the Right Mindset
The purpose of this article is to offer you a couple of simple tips and reminders that will help you in this very sensitive process. Not having this conversation with the older driver in your family could be disastrous. The avoidance of these conversations could place people’s lives in danger.
Marching forward with a very specific plan, rooted in empathy, tact and compassion, can help ensure mom’s smooth transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat, with minimal deterioration to her independence. Have confidence in your approach. Remember… amateurs built the Ark, experts built the Titanic!
When to Start the Conversations
An ancient Chinese proverb reminds us that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second-best time is now. Start these driving conversations with your loved-one today, regardless of where they are on the safe-driving continuum. Don’t wait until mom is involved in an accident, gets lost or receives a talking to from the police.
A tactical error some families make is waiting to talk to their loved-one about a driving retirement until after there has been some sort of triggering event. Using mom’s recent accident or triggering event as an opportunity to begin the driving conversation can be problematic for two reasons 1) it may be too late, as the older driver may have caused a serious accident, and 2) this single, isolated event may actually serve to even further convince the older driver they are not a candidate for a retirement from driving.
Older drivers are often better historians than visionaries. How many times have we heard the argument, “I’ve been driving for 65 years, and this is my first accident ever, so what’s the big deal?” This potential response from your loved-one offers yet another reason to start the conversation before there is a triggering event.
Who Should Do the Talking?
For these conversations to be successful, they must be worked as a collaborative effort between you, other family members, and the older driver his or herself. No one specific family member should have to bear the sole burden of having the driving conversation with mom. Instead, consider a more holistic approach. In addition to other family members being involved, consider involving the family doctor, a favorite nurse, a respected member of mom’s place of worship, or even the family attorney. Remember too, the value that an existing social worker or geriatric counselor, or that of a close friend or neighbor of your mom’s can bring to the discussions.
Remember the old adage of there being strength in numbers. Just be careful not to overdo the involvement from others, as we don’t want to shoot a mosquito with a bazooka!
Breaking the Ice
Starting these complex conversations should not be done with a stick of dynamite. Ease your way into a driving discussion by mentioning a current news event: “Mom, did you see on the news where the 81-year-old gentleman got lost? The reporter said he left home to run to the corner grocery store and ended up out of gas and disabled along the edge of the highway in the next state. The police officers that found him said he apparently became confused and got lost. That could have ended a lot worse than it did.”
Be a Good Listener and Use Facts, Not Opinions
Listening (not just hearing) to your loved-one’s counter arguments surrounding driving cessation is critically important. Remember, the transition into a driving retirement is one of the most difficult transitions any of us will ever have to endure.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another person has to say. We’re talking about actually listening to exactly what is being said and understanding what message your loved-one is trying to send. Your listening skills are possibly the most important skills you have in bringing a peaceful resolution to this very sensitive issue.
Your conversations need to be based on mom’s driving skills, not on her age. It is critically important that family members remove their emotions, opinions and speculation from the driving conversation. Provide your loved-one with specific examples of driving concerns. Replace your opinionated “Mom, you’ve become a very poor driver” with the more factual “Mom, I became particularly concerned when you turned left in front of those oncoming cars.” As you are providing your loved-one with your reasons behind suggesting a driving retirement, keep top-of-mind the wise words of Sgt. Joe Friday; Just the facts, ma’am!
Maintaining Dignity, Pride and Independence
The key to a successful retirement from driving is directly equivalent to the family’s ability to find and implement practical and realistic transportation alternatives. In other words, have your transportation “Plan B” in place before you ever start talking to mom about a driving retirement.
Remember that your goal is to keep mom and the community safe while simultaneously helping her to maintain her pride, dignity and independence. A retirement from a long and successful driving career should not mean that your loved-one is now under house arrest. At most…a retirement from driving might mean a loss of convenience, but it should never mean a loss of independence!
The consequences of not speaking up can be far worse than the talk itself. A family’s way of handling (or not handling) this matter could ultimately mean the difference between life and death, not only for your loved-one, but also for other unsuspecting motorists. If not handled properly, forcing an older driver to give up driving can trigger depression and isolation which, in turn, can eventually cause deterioration in your loved-one’s physical health. No one wants this outcome, so take the necessary time to plan your work, and then work your plan.
The final take-away; Be humble and respectful, remember this is the same person that changed your diaper in the middle of the night and taught you how to hold a fork!
Matt Gurwell is the developer of the nationally-recognized “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program. He currently lectures throughout the United States on topics related to the aging process and its adverse affects on driving skills. As developer of this life-saving program, Matt’s mission is to provide strategies and guidance to seniors that will help them to continue driving safely until the decision is made to retire from their driving career. The “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program also provides an excellent array of services and resources for both families and professionals as they deal with this very sensitive issue. Matt retired from a very distinguished and successful 24-year career as an Assistant District Commander with the Ohio State Highway Patrol. After leaving the Patrol, Matt has participated in a tremendous amount of work in the area of older driver research, best practices, current vehicle safety technologies, and adaptive equipment. Matt's creative, innovative and common sense approach, combined with his uncanny ability to bring calm and resolve to stressful situations without ever jeopardizing the dignity of others, has contributed greatly to the success of the “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program. When asked what the ultimate motivation was for starting the program, Matt explains: "There was never one particular event. It was the result of 20-plus years of holding dying people in my arms at terrible car accidents, and delivering dozens and dozens of death notifications to families. I would much rather work with families to bring a peaceful resolve to this sensitive and uncomfortable issue now, rather than have them deal with it when a State Trooper is knocking on their front door". Matt serves as Senior Care Authority’s Program Director for the “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program. Senior Care Authority (https://www.seniorcareauthority.com) is now the nation’s exclusive provider of the “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program.