Driving ability, not age, is what matters on the road. Older drivers can often stay behind the wheel safely for longer, thanks to better health and mobility. But for all of us, there may come a time when we have to give up driving.
Why you might want to talk
Conversations about giving up driving can bring up strong emotions. You may be concerned that a friend or relative’s health means they are no longer fit to drive, or perhaps you’ve been a passenger in their car and felt unsafe. Or you could just be unsure how to bring up this subject with them in the future, particularly if they rely on their car to get around. Your friend or relative could be concerned about driving, but might be struggling to accept the idea of giving up their car and licence. Be aware that:
they may be worried about how they will get around if they no longer drive and reluctant to rely more on others
they may be concerned about losing their social life and independence
your concern for their safety could be taken as criticism of their skills and ability
they may prefer to discuss concerns about their driving with a professional, rather than a friend or family member
if they don’t think there is a problem with their driving, this may come completely out of the blue for them – they won’t have prepared for the conversation like you have.
Remember that unless the DVLA or a GP have declared that they are not allowed to drive, it is ultimately your friend or relative’s decision whether to stop driving. Your role is to encourage them to think about whether they are still safe behind the wheel.
It’s hard for Dad. He does value his independence.
When to talk
It’s best to start the conversation before your friend or relative gets to a point where they are unsafe on the road. Talking about it as a future prospect gives them more time to adjust to the idea of giving up driving and consider possible alternatives for getting around.
If you have immediate concerns about someone’s safety on the road, talk to them as soon as possible. The safety of your friend or relative and other road users must come first. For example, if you’re in the car with them when they have a near-miss, give them some time to recover but bring it up soon after: “That was a close call in the car earlier – I’m worried about your safety when you’re driving.” Being honest is important, but think about the nicest way of doing so.
Who should talk
If there is more than one person available to have this conversation, think carefully about who the best person to do this might be. Who is your friend or relative most likely to listen to, or respond well to? Who has been in the car with them most often or most recently? It might be that someone outside the family or another friend needs to have this conversation with them. For example, they may find it harder to accept this message from their children or someone they’re very close to.
We had some very challenging conversations with my granny about her stopping driving. She dug her heels in whenever Mum tried to talk to her about it, and she wouldn’t listen to me either. It was only when she had a driving assessment that she finally listened – to the man who carried out the assessment. She (reluctantly) respected his professional opinion.
How to start the conversation
Bring it up when discussing a health problem that has recently developed or got worse: “Have you ever asked your doctor whether your condition or medication could affect your driving?”
Ask them questions about their driving habits to get them thinking: “I know you're happy driving locally, but do you still feel okay about driving on the motorway?” or “How do you feel about driving in the dark now?”
Tie it into recent events: “Did you hear about the car accident in the news today?” or “Did you hear what happened to X down the road?”
Talk from your own experiences: “Driving just gets more and more stressful” or “That new road is always so busy, I’d avoid it if I could.”
Dad doesn’t drive at night any more – he feels his eyesight isn’t good enough. And he only drives short distances.
Look at your options
Your friend or relative may not need to give up driving completely. You could suggest that they consider:
changing their driving habits – could they drive shorter distances, or change where or when they are driving?
discussing any concerns with a driving safety expert at RoSPA
talking to their GP about their safety on the road – be aware that a GP may only express an opinion if there’s an obvious medical reason why your friend or relative shouldn’t be driving.
If your friend or relative doesn’t accept that they need to reduce or give up driving, a driver assessment may give you both peace of mind. Anyone can have one, so perhaps they would be more willing to have an assessment if you also put yourself forward for one? This isn’t a driving test. The assessor cannot stop somebody from driving, but they will give advice based on their driving ability.
If you both agree that giving up driving completely is the safest option, try to help them to focus on the positives. Getting out and about without a car could save money and reduce stress. But make sure whatever you suggest is practical for that person – for example, whether they are able to walk to their nearest bus stop.
Alternatives to driving may include:
local buses or trains
taxis – regular taxi trips could still be much cheaper than running a car
using a mobility scooter for short journeys – perhaps your friend or relative could test one out at a mobility centre. Driving Mobility can help you find a local centre
lifts from friends and family members. If your friend or relative would feel like they were being a burden to others, perhaps they could do something in exchange for the lift. Or maybe other people could use their car and give them a lift when needed.