Teen driver in driver's seat

Driving a car is a big deal. Hitting the streets on four wheels means being responsible for the safety for your passengers, other drivers, and yourself. It’s important to set rules with family members so that everyone can be safe. This includes teenagers just beginning to learn how to drive, as well as seniors whose driving skills may be on the decline.

Earned privileges

Since new drivers are vulnerable to more risks, many parents find the answer in a written agreement with their teens: a driving contract.

With a contract, parents and teens can spell it all out: guidelines, expectations and goals. And consequences for violations. Having it in writing also makes everything clear from the start, so it’s harder for anyone to “forget” the rules or bend one-time exceptions into new rules.

The road to independence

As your teen gains road experience, allow them more leeway. Certain benchmarks you can use:

  • Once the teen has proven accident and violation-free
  • Both parent and teen are comfortable with the teen’s driving abilities
  • Overall experience as a driver (6, 9, 12 or 18 months)

Caution, always

Even with an agreement, it’s key not to move too quickly. Their first time with a new privilege should be routine, low-stress – like taking a family member to a weekly activity. Don’t let their first nighttime drive be for a big game or to their prom - lots of anxiety there.

After everyone is comfortable with a new privilege, grant them more. Say, after they’ve gotten the hang of daytime driving, let them drive one night a week. This may all feel painfully slow to your young driver, but one day when you’re least expecting it, they’ll thank you for it.

Senior driving: how to discuss contract options

Many adults dread the idea of approaching elderly parents with a discussion about their driving. It’s not easy to suggest to a parent who once was an ace behind the wheel that he or she consider limiting their driving to, say, daytime motoring only. It’s even tougher to suggest that they cease driving altogether—for both their safety and that of other motorists.

If your relative  is a driver who is over the age of 80, or over the age of 70 and have had an increasing number of traffic accidents or near-misses, it might be time to step back and take an objective look at whether driving is still in their best interest. And, if you are the child of an aging driver, there are ways to discuss this topic in a manner that will keep feelings from being hurt or having your intentions misunderstood.

Be caring while expressing concerns

Talking to parents or other elderly loved ones about giving up or limiting their driving has to be approached with compassion and sensitivity.

“It’s a tricky situation,” acknowledges Huldah Sullivan, a Nebraska-based eldercare expert who has worked in long-term-care facilities since 1981. “If you can get the family doctor involved, that’s always best, because you can approach it from a medical or safety standpoint.”

However, it’s not always possible to get a medical provider on board. In that case, you’ll want to make a list of concerns and keep track of incidents supporting your reasoning behind the discussion. It’s important to make sure the elderly driver knows that you’re concerned rather than feeling as if they’re being judged or punished.

Make safety the priority

Sometimes, elderly drivers may react poorly to the request and refuse to curb their driving habits. If all respectful and reasonable efforts fail, Sullivan says filing an “unsafe driver” report with your local Department of Motor Vehicles is a way to approach the situation when there are no other options.

Although the procedure and rules vary from one state to the next, the DMV will contact drivers with diminished skills and ask them to get a medical evaluation before allowing them to drive again. The agency may also require them to take a driving test.

Then the DMV will determine if your parent or loved one will be allowed to continue driving. In some cases, they may place restrictions on the driver, such as not allowing them to drive after dark or on highways.

Present alternative options

“You have to remember that for most people driving represents freedom,” Sullivan says. Many elderly adults fear that giving up the keys will substantially impair their independence.

She adds that most communities have some sort of bus or van service that will take seniors to places ranging from the doctor to the grocery store to the shopping mall.

“If you can show them that they can still go do the things they want to do, it makes the situation a lot easier for everyone,” Sullivan says. And, instead of feeling like they are losing autonomy, they may actually look forward to the added camaraderie their new situation provides. 

You may want to start looking into what services are available to make the transition to a car-free lifestyle easier. This may include using ride-sharing services more frequently, particularly at night when it may be more difficult to see. Some communities also provide special vans and buses for seniors to use for appointments and errands. 

Want to know more?

Check out our library of Auto Resources to learn more about driving safely and coaching your teens to do the same.

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