If our parents live long enough, there will be many conversations we’ll need to have with them that may make us very uncomfortable. One conversation that we all dread is discussing the possibility of our parent giving up driving. This sensitive topic can be challenging to broach, but it’s a crucial one for the safety and well-being of both our parent and others on the road. In this post, we’ll explore the reasons behind this necessary conversation, provide strategies for discussing it with your parent, and touch on the issue of liability exposure in certain situations.

Why Is This Conversation Necessary?

First and foremost, safety is the primary concern when it comes to aging parents and driving. As your parent gets older, their physical and cognitive abilities may decline, which can make them more susceptible to accidents. Slower reaction times, decreased vision, and other age-related changes can put them and others at risk on the road. According to the CDC, drivers aged 75 and older have the highest death toll in car accidents, primarily attributed to age-related factors such as diminished vision, cognitive decline, and physical changes. Furthermore, the death rate per thousand crashes is notably higher among drivers aged 70 and above when compared to middle-aged drivers, who fall in the 35-54 age range.

Strategies for the Conversation

Conducting this conversation with sensitivity and empathy is crucial. Here are some strategies to consider when discussing driving with an aging parent:

  1. Choose the Right Time and Place: Find a quiet, private setting where you can have an open and honest conversation without interruptions or distractions.
  2. Be Empathetic: Begin by expressing your concern for their well-being and safety. Let them know that you care about their independence and want to find solutions that work for everyone.
  3. Focus on Safety: Emphasize that the primary concern is their safety and the safety of others on the road. Share statistics and stories that illustrate the increased risks associated with elderly drivers.
  4. Listen Actively: Give your parent the opportunity to express their feelings and concerns. Be prepared for resistance or defensiveness, and respond with patience and understanding.
  5. Explore Alternatives: Offer to help your parent find alternative transportation options, such as rideshare services, public transportation, or family members who can provide rides.
  6. Involve Others: If your parent is resistant to your suggestions, consider involving other trusted family members or a healthcare professional to support your case.
When Cognitive Abilities Are Not in Question

If your parent’s cognitive abilities are intact, the conversation may be easier, as they can better understand the reasoning behind your concerns. However, if they remain uncooperative, you may need to explore legal options such as seeking a medical assessment or involving authorities to address the situation.

When Cognitive Abilities Are Impaired

Conversations become even more challenging when cognitive decline is a factor. In such cases, you might need to consider legal guardianship or conservatorship, which can grant you the authority to make decisions on their behalf, including their ability to drive.

Liability Exposure

Another concern voiced often by adult children is the fear that they may face liability exposure if they allow their impaired parents to continue driving when they are aware of the risks. While laws vary, several legal blogs provide valuable insights into this issue:

In a post by Pennsylvania personal injury firm Schmidt Kramer on October 20, 2022 titled “Could I Be Held Liable if One of My Parents Causes a Car Crash? they state:

Typically, adult children are not going to be held liable for damages caused by their elderly parents. The exception to this would be if the adult child owns the car the elderly parent was driving at the time of the crash. The adult child could be held liable for allowing the parent to drive the car if the child knew the parent was a reckless driver. This could be considered negligent entrustment. Even if an elderly individual is a bad driver, and the children know it, they are probably not going to be held liable if they do not own the car. You could argue it is negligent for adult children to allow an elderly parent to continue driving if the parent is a bad driver. However, this is not an argument that would hold up in an insurance claim or a lawsuit.

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The Florida firm, Chiumento Law, suggests that owning the vehicle your parent is driving could potentially increase your liability exposure, as it may be seen as a tacit endorsement of their continued driving, stating  “If you loan your vehicle to someone you know to be unfit to drive, you may be liable for negligent entrustment. This can indeed create a serious issue of liability.” See https://www.legalteamforlife.com/2017/12/can-i-be-held-liable-for-an-elderly-parents-car-accident/

Finally, a post by Shollenberger, Januzzi, and Wolfe, LLP states,

In order for a car accident plaintiff to hold an adult child responsible for an accident caused by an elderly parent, it would have to be shown that there is some recognized legal duty the adult child had to prevent the parent from causing harm to others, either in general or specifically while driving. Such legal duty is generally not currently recognized, though adult children—particularly those who have power of attorney—should consider that they have a moral obligation (emphasis added) to do what they can to prevent an aging parent from getting behind the wheel when it becomes dangerous for them to do so.

In conclusion, the difficult conversation about elderly parents giving up driving is a necessary one, driven by concerns for safety and potential legal consequences. Approach it with empathy, prioritize safety, and seek professional guidance if necessary. Remember, the goal is to ensure the well-being of your parent and others on the road, even if it means relinquishing their driving privileges for their safety and the safety of everyone else.