Talking with senior parents about driving: Part 2

Starting the conversation  

We know talking with aging parents about giving up driving is tough, but I hadn’t given much thought to why until Judi Bonilla, a San Diego-based gerontologist and senior driving expert, laid it out for me:

It’s because people are living longer. Our parents never had to have the conversation with their parents because they likely didn’t live into their 80s and 90s. Therefore, we haven’t seen these conversations modeled—we’re forging new pathways here.

Judi, the author of Freewheeling After Sixty, a planning guide for seniors looking to expand their transportation options, warns that no one should expect to have a single conversation with their parents and just be able to check it off the list. Instead, she recommends naturally easing into the topic in conversation.

Here’s her simple suggestion: Start with current events.

For example, here in California we’ve been hit with wildfires this winter. Talk with your parents about how you’ve been looking at your personal emergency preparedness plan and making changes to it. Ask what their plan is.

In the next conversation, ask what your parents would do if they needed to evacuate at night. “Do you feel safe driving at night in those circumstances? Should we think about who you could call if it turns out you don’t feel safe in your car if you need to leave home? Can I keep those friends’ phone numbers so I can bring them with me if there’s an emergency and I’m having a hard time getting ahold of you?”

In the next conversation, say, “We talked about backup plans for when you don’t feel safe driving in an emergency. Are there other times you’d prefer to ride with someone else?” As Judi has written, many people are safe driving to some destinations but are unsafe in other circumstances, like on the freeway or at night. Framing the question in this way means that your parent may feel more comfortable sharing.

If this plan doesn’t work for you, Judi has another tactic, which is to tackle some “aging” issues yourself and then talk with your parents about them. For example: “I’m looking at putting together an advanced healthcare directive, and it’s made me realize I don’t know what you’ve planned.” Work through paperwork and plans together—be a partner to your parents in tackling big tasks and big decisions, and be clear you’re available for support.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll talk about tangible ways you can support your parents in developing alternative driving plans—even if you don’t live nearby. And we’ll give you a planning worksheet to get you started. 


This is Part 2 of a four-part series.

In Part 1, Judi discussed the importance of empathy in these conversations, and we learned how she put herself into the shoes of someone giving up driving.

In Part 3, Judi talks about tangible ways you can support your parents in developing alternative driving plans—even if you don’t live nearby. It includes a transportation planning template to get you started. 

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.


Arrive Rides dispatches Lyft and Uber rides for people who don’t have smartphones. More at