Talking with senior parents about driving: Part 1

Practice empathy       

This is Part 1 of a four-part series.

Judi Bonilla’s parents passed away before they reached a stage at which their driving would be unsafe, so it’s interesting that her personal crusade is to help seniors give up the keys when it’s time. But Judi, an American gerontologist, had an awakening when she moved to New Zealand and had to learn to drive on the other (“wrong”) side of the road.

“Living that overseas experience made me attuned to what it was like to be an adult but to be infantilized because I didn’t have the skills, like driving on the other side of the road or learning how to use a new form of transportation,” she said. “I really saw what could happen when you were no longer able to drive safely…My life was turned upside-down.”

Judi seized control and took driving lessons to equip herself for her time behind the wheel in New Zealand. The experience got her thinking about how seniors are put into a similar position when they need to (or decide to) give up driving. To make that decision is to learn how to ride the local bus, apply for community transportation programs, or navigate new services…often all at once.

Judi encourages family members to reflect on experiences when they’ve felt in over their heads before talking to a parent about giving up the keys, and then to recognize that most of us will, someday, not be able to drive.

“Put yourself in the shoes of an adult parent, who’s raised a family, worked, lived their life…and then to have their life turned upside-down. For a lot of people, that’s what giving up driving does. If it was so easy to do, everyone would be doing it. However, we all have some experience getting out of our comfort zone.”

And what do we want when we’re out of our comfort zones? Someone to help us out. In Part 2, we’ll take advice from Judi about how to broach the subject and start the conversation with your parents about driving alternatives.

In Part 3, Judi gives us ideas on partnering with your parents to develop a personal transportation plan. We’ll also give you a transportation planning worksheet to get you going.

In Part 4, Judi puts this topic in a historical perspective, and makes you feel part of a movement by engaging with your family on the subject.


Judi Bonilla is a San Diego-based gerontologist on a mission to help seniors stop driving when it’s no longer safe for them. Her book, Freewheeling After Sixty, is available on Amazon.

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