Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: Aiding Elderly Drivers

Driving is a milestone of freedom in our teen years, but it can become a safety concern when we're older.

In the first installment of "Good Morning America's" series on tackling tough topics with aging parents called "Mom and Dad, We Need To Talk," "GMA" family and life contributor Lee Woodruff looks at the complicated issue of elder driving.

VIDEO: Lee Woodruff offers advice on how to tell aging parents their driving days are over.

When is it time to ask for your parent's car keys? And how do you do it?

Woodruff has recently faced this question in her own family and has spoken extensively with the AARP on the best ways to handle it. She says you need the support of your entire family and should always approach the topic with a great deal of understanding. In Woodruff's case, her family spoke to her father before his driving became an issue, which is one of the top recommendations of the AARP.

Experts at the AARP say that the first step is changing the way we talk about the issue. You shouldn't tell your parents, "It's time to give up the keys" or talk about "taking" the keys away. Instead, use the phrase "hanging up the keys." It's a subtle difference, but "hanging up" makes it their choice; "taking away" makes it someone else's.

Many people don't spend a lot of time in the passenger seat while their aging parents drive, which is the best way to gauge their competency. Other clues include if your parents often talk about "close calls" or getting lost, or if you notice dents or dings on their car.

AARP's 10 Major Warning Signs

Almost getting into accidents, with frequent "close calls."

Finding dents and scrapes on the car, or on your parents' property, such as fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.

Getting lost.

Difficulty seeing or following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings.

Delayed response time to unexpected situations on the road, difficulty moving their feet from the gas pedal to the brake pedal or confusing the two.

Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps.

Experiencing road rage or having other drivers frequently honk at them.

Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving.

Difficulty turning around to check over their shoulder while backing up or changing lanes.

Receiving multiple traffic tickets or "warnings" from traffic or law enforcement officers.

CLICK HERE for more tips from the AARP Driver Safety Program.

CLICK HERE for worksheets to help you calculate transportation alternatives and costs for elderly drivers.

CLICK HERE for more resources on tackling difficult issues with your aging parents, including driving, finances, family and caregiving.

Elderly Drivers: How to Have the Talk

All in the Family

Woodruff stresses that every family is different but, she says, it often helps to enlist the entire family to have the talk, especially the spouse of the parent in question, if possible. According to a survey by the Hartford Financial Services Group and the MIT AgeLab, 50 percent of married drivers older than 50 prefer to hear about driving concerns first from their spouses. Doctors were a close second, followed by adult children.

Safety First

As for the conversation itself, experts say, you should approach it from a safety and health perspective, rather than age.

For example, you can say something like, "Does your eyeglass prescription make it tougher to see when you're driving?" or "Does your doctor think your medication will have an effect on your driving?"

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