Dad’s car has been garaged all winter. Now what?


Dad's best-golfing buddy had an accident just before Thanksgiving.

His family had been worried about him behind the wheel for a while.  His car was a total loss, and he was fortunate to escape with a few bumps and bruises.  Initially, it shook Dad up, and he wouldn't drive.  Although he said, "I've always been a better driver than he ever was…"  My siblings and I agreed it might be good to garage his car for the winter.  Dad was okay with that, and we were all so relieved.  He has been driving poorly…for a while.  Realizing that he may not be the best driver anymore will be tough for a guy who always loved his cars and was the family's go-to driver for the longest time. His wheels were his wings.

The snow is gone. 

The temperatures are above freezing, sometimes even comfortable, and Dad's memory of his friend's accident is fading.  The anxiety he experienced after the accident has lifted, and he is talking about getting the car "tuned up for spring."  Over the winter, we've all noticed that his hands could be steadier.  Unfortunately, his hand-eye coordination seems off, and the doctor says they can't find the cause or treatment that might help.

How do we pull this off? 

We all agree that Dad resuming driving is a bad idea.  We are all sure that it shouldn't (and can't) happen. He is going to have a complete fit.  Who is going to bring this up?  Who draws the short straw?  Whichever one of us gets the lucky task will be the focus of his anger.  Nobody wants that.

These types of discussions are angst for those of us involved.  It’s brutally difficult telling our aging loved ones that something they have done with skill and competence for all their adult lives might need to end (implying that it's not coming back).  It challenges roles in families; it causes hurt, spawns arguments, and has the risk (even temporarily) of bruising relationships.

Driver at risk?

In Massachusetts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is responsible for issuing and renewing driver's licenses.  For drivers over 75, an in-person visit to the RMV and a vision test are required to renew a license.  The RMV website has excellent resources for families and caregivers who suspect that the elder they are concerned about is a driver at risk.

From "Warning Signs for Unsafe Driving" to having your loved one screened as a "Medically Unsafe Driver," the RMV website offers specific instructions if you are concerned about your loved one’s ability to drive safely.  In addition, their Primary Care Physician (PCP) is an excellent place to have a screening done.  They can even make a report to the RMV if needed. 

You know them best. 

Others may not readily see their vulnerabilities, especially if they are clever and can "turn on the charm."  Humor and witty banter often disarm others and can shift the focus away from a clear perspective of the limitations of the elder, precisely as it is intended to do.

Your intervention addresses the safety and well-being of your loved one, other drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and everyone sharing the roadway.  But, as the saying goes, "it's too soon to have the conversation ... until it's too late."  Don't let that be your experience.

Talk to others who have gone through this.  Use the resources at your fingertips: senior centers, your local council on aging, your loved one's PCP, and the easy-to-navigate RMV website: Mass.Gov/info-details/older-drivers.  No need to go it alone.  Help is a phone call (or click) away.

driver for the longest time, thanksgiving, driver at risk, driver, medically unsafe driver, massachusetts