The Time You Ask Yourself, Should Mom Still be Driving?

My mom will be 98 this year, spry as a forty-year old, mentally all of her marbles, plays bridge, is out to dinner with friends several times a week, and is thrilled the golf season is finally here so she can get out and play 18.

And she still drives. One of the reasons we were in Wilmington yesterday was that her license expires in November and she wanted to renew it now.

My sister and I have always been very liberal with mom in the sense that we know she has excellent sensibilities to know herself when it’s time to stop driving. We tell her all the time that she’d much rather stop on her own rather than us taking away the keys. She’s about the only one of her peers to still drive – up to the country club and over to the chiropractor, and across to the Concord Pike for grocery shopping. On occasion, she’ll drive up to Bala Cynwyd and tell us after the fact she has gone and come back.

Here’s the problem. While she can see what she knows, like driving up to the club she KNOW where to turn since she’s done it twelve million times, she’s not all that great at seeing what she doesn’t know. Take yesterday. She’s been wanting to drive up 202 to Glen Mills, PA to see a huge new Wegman’s grocery store. She drove up herself once but never found the store because it is inside a large complex of stores enough off 202 not to be visible easily. My sister and I drove her there yesterday as she kept telling us we didn’t need our stupid GPS to tell us how to find it because SHE could get us there, but she really couldn’t. At every bend in the road she was sure it was just there and WE weren’t looking close enough to find it. She was right about one thing – the Wegman’s was not visible from the road from the direction we were coming at it and it was ONLY because my GPS told me the name of the road off 202 to turn onto that we found it.

Mom said that was easy, I can get here again now that I know what light to make the turn. Luckily for us, mom thought the store was WAY too big for her, that there were way too many aisles, and she’ll stay happy shopping locally. Yay, good choice mom.

If you ask my mom she’ll tell you her reflexes are that of a twenty-year old and that she drives really well. She prides herself in her independence (as she should) and loves being the one who can still go and do. One of her best friends (also going to be 98) just had a car accident near her winter home in Hawaii – rammed the back of a truck – so her fault. Her four children pow-wowed and said, sorry mom, no more driving. Because she spends part of the year in Wilmington still, driving to get to meet her friends, she’s now NOT even coming east and my mother fears she’ll not see her dear friend again. Of her other peers (all women), all have been forced to stop driving by their children.

It begs the question why aren’t WE forcing our mom to stop?? For now, we think she’s okay, that she doesn’t push the envelope other than she sneaks in a drive from time to time to Saks in Bala. Her younger friends (in their 80s!!) offer to do the driving when they go out at night, mom admits her limitations and acknowledges when she knows not to drive certain places or times. All to the good common sense rule.

The good news is that the Delaware DMV doesn’t allow someone to renew their license before sixty days out from expiration date so we COULDN’T renew yesterday. Bonus. Mom knows time will come when she doesn’t drive – she just doesn’t see NOW being the time. We don’t see her as a hazard on the road, nor in jeopardy of killing anyone else (the real fear with having an older driver in the family) so off she goes today on her regular whirlwind of going and doing. More power to her.

The rest of yesterday was spent walking through Hagley Museum and having a dual celebration birthday lunch (my brother-in-law and moi) at the Green Room at the Hotel duPont (probably soon to be called Hotel Dow). I took the worst iPhone photos inside the hotel, unpostable really, so you’ll have to take my word for it, the Green Room hasn’t changed – still magnificent. Lunch however, was meh. My Caesar salad had mystery lettuce leftover from the days the DuPont Company was a chemical giant!

We got home last night just as it started to rain heavily and heavy rain seems to be de rigeur for today as well. Fine with me – I’ve got thank you notes to write and bills to pay and at 68 now, a nap or two to take!

Happy Tuesday!


15 thoughts on “The Time You Ask Yourself, Should Mom Still be Driving?

    1. That’s a great link but the problem we have with mom is she is one stubborn lady – she says she CAN see and does FINE. Rather than arguing with her, our approach has been to tell her we KNOW she’ll stop when she can’t navigate, that we TRUST her to be honest with herself and stop before she has an accident doing herself or someone else harm. We thought she might NOT renew her license but it’s a HUGE badge of honor to renew a license at 98. She wants that honor. One of her friends went to renew a licence and when she struggled a bit with the eye exam, the DMV insisted she take a driving test. I looked that up online and it says the DMV reserves the right to test seniors at their discretion. Mom was disappointed she didn’t get to renew yesterday – I know she wants it over and done with so then she can stop driving when she’s ready and NOT be told by either us or the DMV. My dad went through a light when he was in his 80s, got a ticket, went to get his license renewed, they made him take a test, he failed, and he didn’t ever drive again.

  1. Happy Birthday to your mom!🎂

    My mother in law, in Sweden, still drives a bit at 83. I think she should not, as I rode the short distance to the store with her last summer and she started by putting it in reverse instead of drive😫 And she is deaf and half blind! My hubs is the only child and doesn’t want to rock the boat or be pushy, basically it is his call….and she *only* drives to the grocery store (two blocks-but not fun to lug it home….although she has a walker/Rollie cart thingy) and the wine store, which is five’ish miles. Sweden does have government supported taxi service for “pensioners” so she can take a taxi anywhere for a few $$, but she thinks she can’t afford it. Ugh, my grandmother used to say “they call these the golden years, but they are pretty brassy if you ask me!”

    I, myself, had to go renew my CT license this morning. It could have been worse, but there is a new “verified” drivers license and the web instructions were so unclear. I didn’t take my social security card with me, so now my DL has NOT VALID FOR FEDERAL ID printed on it, and I basically need to take my passport everywhere I go! There isn’t a nice way for me to say it, but honestly, illegal immigrants do not deserve a driver’s license! I almost need rum in my coffee☕️

    1. There’s no one answer for the senior who drives. I know my sister intends to die in NYC (not that she’s anywhere near dying!!) but her philosophy is that aging and staying in the city, she’ll never need a car, she can toddle to the corner for some food, the doorman will know if she hasn’t
      been out for weeks…etc….

      Delaware has the same dopey verified driver’s license and when my mom does go to renew, she’ll have to present all those documents, including TWO proofs of address. Don’t get me started.

  2. My mother lost her license in CT due to neurosurgery. She persisted in regaining it for a few years. By the time she got to the DMV (swearing Dad drove) she was ‘worn out from navigating’ and always failed. Finally, DMV sent a tester to her home for local road test and she was relicensed.
    So……all my hard work to no avail. Fifteen years later at 89, Mom’s in Dementia care and looking for a job so she can get out and live like it was. Ads with ‘must have car’ give her an edge.
    My feeling: You are not the judge AND Mom is not the judge. It is truly fate and the alignment of the stars

    1. I’m sorry to read what you are dealing with. No doubt many of us have parents in some state of dementia or diminished capacity. My mother’s friends are dying off faster than you can say boo and those not dead, many are are in the healthcare and/or Alzheimer’s wing of her senior community. I’m not ready for this yet.

  3. I am one to think it’s selfish to drive when you have diminished capacity — whether that be from alcohol, from age, from distraction, etc. I don’t care if you want to drive yourself off of a cliff, but don’t ram me off one. And it’s clear that you mother has diminished capacity, since she can only drive to certain places, in certain conditions, etc. All the stuff your mom says are the same exact things almost everyone says when faced with an inevitability that scares them — I’m not at that point yet, I know my limitations, I’m careful, I promise I will stop when I need to, etc. This is absolutely normal denialism.

    1. What you say makes some sense but not complete sense. If you took everyone off the road who drove with some diminished capacity – whether by distraction or age, the roads would be empty. You learn what you can and can not do while driving – I do, Mr. EOS does, my mother does – you said you do too. My mother is not stupid nor is she in denial- she knows full well not to jeopardize anyone else and her route takes her less than one mile to the country club, and a quarter mile to the post office, and maybe two miles to the grocery store. She says NO to driving in the rain. She says NO to driving in the snow. She limits her driving to the daytime and quite honestly, a 20-something distracted driver is more apt to run into HER than my mother running into someone else. My sister and I speak with mom no less than a handful times a DAY – we know what we see, we know what we tell her, she sees how many friends of hers are no longer driving – not denial, more sheer pride of her incredible agility and acuteness at almost 98.

  4. Florida is famous for its senior drivers. They take a half-hour to turn a corner and tend to be overly cautious because they are old. We get used to them, give them respect (and space). I agree with you that it’s the 20 year old male who is far more apt to be the killer on the road.

  5. This is such a sensitive subject. The idea of losing one’s biggest link to independence is terrifying. My father, who was extremely active until his mid-80s, developed macular degeneration & was forced to give up his license ( not without an argument). He asked his grandchildren, not his children, if they thought it would be ok if he bought a moped & used it just to go back & forth to the yacht club where he kept his boat. He promised he’d keep to the side roads. Mind you, he didn’t sail any longer but he simply enjoyed working on it & socializing with the other members. The grandchildren tactfully convinced him this was a bad plan. He reluctantly agreed but that loss of independence took a heavy toll.

    I am 1 year older than you, EOS, & recognize that I have more driving behind me than ahead of me & hope like hell I’ll be the one to decide when it’s time to surrender my license. I doubt it, though.

    1. It IS sensitive, I agree. The story about your dad asking his grandchildren about driving a moped is precious and also heartbreaking – for men maybe more than women, losing car independence is the beginning of the end. Who wants to deal with that reality? Not I.

      My mother has the financial luxury of hiring a driver after she gives up driving herself, as do a few of her friends, but we all know that’s not the same as hopping in the car and just going.

      I still adore driving – in the city, on long road trips, at night, over hill and dale – but as you said, both of us have more years behind us of driving than ahead. Sigh.

  6. Oh boy, I could natter on for hours here, but I won’t. Given my knowledge of the area (having grown up in the Philadelphia – Wilmington portion of the I-95 corridor, as you did), and having watched my mother — unlike yours — succumb to dementia at a relatively early age (late 70s), maybe this observation will be useful food for thought.

    One important aspect of my mother’s creation of a social life in her retirement community (just a bit up Baltimore Pike, across the DE/PA border, you’d recognize the name) was her ability to drive. She’d be the one to drive her pals to the shore for a few days at someone’s house, to the Philadelphia Flower Show, to Winterthur, to the Scott Arboretum, to the Greenville Country Store, to whatever restaurant or store they all wanted to visit, to whatever funeral they needed to attend. Until … she wasn’t. My brother and I were behind the curve in seeing her decline, given that we weren’t local. (Insert guilt knife here.) To her credit, she volunteered to stop driving, and offered her car to one of us, which my brother’s larger family could definitely use. Quite by chance, when he called her car insurance company with a question about transferring titles across state lines, he was mistakenly switched to another department which said that her policy was in the process of being cancelled, due to several “scrapes and fender benders.”

    The sad part to me was that once she was no longer a driver, her social life diminished. I’m pretty sure her non-driving-related cognitive decline played a part here — she was no longer any fun to hang out with, I have no doubt. But her “utility,” for lack of a better word, was gone too. And that mattered a lot.
    Anyway, point being … perhaps one dimension of your mother’s attachment to driving has to do with her social life within her community, in addition to her personal convenience and habits.

    1. 100000000000000000000000000% SPOT ON Betty. Mom is the most gregarious social person I know -she entertains, she plays regular and duplicate bridge several times a week, she has “regular” Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday dinner partners. Has dinner at the club every Sunday night with her 98-year old friend who is wheelchair bound. My mother USED to pick her up at another nearby senior community, load her and her (then) walker in her trunk and the two would drive to the club. I grew up with the children of this woman and last we were together I gracefully said my mother was not strong enough to do that for their mom. They understood, agreed, hired an aide who now takes this woman to the club and back.
      I do know my mother would feel far less spontaneous without driving but her social life and the majority of her friends life at her senior community – all the couples friends she and dad had for decades in Wilmington are now all in their 90s and live in the many lovely communities that dot Greenville. I think mom could be okay socially not driving but she’d want us to give her a pill if she couldn’t dress and feed herself. We have strict insturctions to pull the plug. I keep saying to my sister – “you’re older, You pull the plug!” Gulp. Funny, not funny.
      Mom has not lost one iota of cognitive ability, not one. Knock on wood.

Comments are closed.