How to Take the Car Keys Away From Unsafe Elderly Florida Drivers

Elder Law
August 30, 2021

First, its important to note that just because someone is older, doesn’t make them a bad driver. So, age alone is not a reason to take the car keys away from an elderly loved one.

However, there comes a time when age-related conditions, such as dementia /Alzheimer’s diseases or other aging processes start to impact a loved one’s ability to see or hear, negatively impacts their memory, their reaction time, and decision-making abilities.  

After some cajoling, usually in the form of multiple family members speaking to their elderly loved one explaining that they are no longer safe drivers; some older Americans will accept that its time to rely on Uber/Lyft, a spouse, child or other friend/family member for their transportation needs.

Other senior citizens are a bit more stubborn – or more likely, fearful – as the loss of driving privileges oftentimes represents losing their freedom and independence – and the adjustment is a difficult one. Losing the ability to drive, undoubtedly, brings several complicated (sometimes traumatic) emotions and we should all have sympathy and treat the matter with respect and kindness.

That being said, when an elderly Floridian, exhibiting unsafe driving habits, refuses to give up driving --there are serious safety concerns, risk of injury (to themselves, their passengers, and other drivers/pedestrians), not to mention being a potential defendant in a potential personal injury negligence action.

When reasoning doesn’t work, more aggressive measure may be needed to “take the keys away” if a senior citizen refuses to stop driving:

How to Stop an Elderly Person from Driving in Florida

Because our law practice serves Florida only, this article is Florida-centric, but many of the concepts can be used throughout the United States. Below are four ways to prevent an unsafe elderly driver from getting behind the wheel in Florida:

1.     Discuss Multiple / Readily Available Driving Alternatives

“How will I get to where I want to go? Am I just supposed to stay home all day?”

This is a very common and practical concern when discussing taking away the keys from an elderly loved one. Its important to remind them that there are multiple alternatives to driving nowadays. Uber and Lyft alone seem to be ubiquitous around Florida.  

“But Uber and Lyft are expensive!” Well, its time to compare the cost of a daily uber drive with the cost of maintaining a car, paying for car insurance, paying for gas, etc... oftentimes there is not much of a cost difference!  

If the older adult is not comfortable using a smartphone, there are services, such as: https://gogograndparent.com/,that will help them access these rideshare services using a regular dial telephone.  

There are also a number of extremely low-cost transportation services, such as STS in Miami-Dade and TOPS in Broward counties. There are other elder-oriented low-cost transportation services that differ in each county. Call your local Area Agency on Aging or Aging and Disability Resource Center for more information. 

2.     How to Report the Unsafe Driver to the Florida DMV

Florida Statutes Section 322.126 provides that “any physician, person or agency having knowledge [of an unsafe driver] may report by providing the full name, date of birth, and a description of the alleged disability having mental or physical disorders that could affect his or her driving ability.” 

This reporting can be done anonymously using Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Form 72190. When Form 72190 is submitted, if a panel determines if a medical review is necessary. If so, the driver is notified inwriting that they have 45 days to provide medical information from their doctor. Florida law requires the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles make a decision within 90 days of receipt of all requested medical information.  

If driving privileges are revoked, the driver may, at any time, provide updated medical information for reconsideration. 

3.     Bring the car in for “repairs” | Sometimes Out-of-Sight = Out of Mind

No one likes to use deceptive tactics on an elderly love done, but sometimes it is necessary so they can save face and prevent angry family fights. Dishonesty, for their own good, is sometimes a caregiver’s strategy when dealing with an unsafe driver. Some relatives have found success pretending that their older adult vehicle needs repairs and so it is at the mechanic’s garage.  

Sometimes, dementia can be used for this purpose as well. Out-of-sight often equates to out-of-mind. Once the car is no longer in their driveway, the desire to drive may dissipate. If the older relative inquires, the family can explain that sometimes mechanics take an extraordinarily long-time to conduct repairs and, if it keeps coming up, eventually that the fake mechanic has indicated that the car is unfixable or repairing the automobile would cost more than its worth.  

4.     Disable the Vehicle

Sometimes hiding the keys is not enough. If you are car-mechanically included, disabling the battery so the car cannot start. Amazon and Walmart also sell “car start disablers.”

You can also consider hiring a mobile mechanic to install these products or discuss alternative ways of safely preventing the car from operating.

Preventing Unsafe Seniors from Driving

Ultimately, the above tactics are some of the most aggressive. Certainly, we want to emphasize the importance of trying to emphasize that you care about your elderly loved one and that your priority is to keep them safe. Involve your doctor or elder law attorney (sometimes bringing in any independent non-family mediator) can help because it removes some traditional power dynamics (e.g. "I am the patriarch of this family, I make the rules, not my children"). When it comes from a doctor or elder law attorney, that power dynamic is removed and can also be effective.

But, when cooler heads wont prevail, the older Floridian's caregiver sometimes has to take more aggressive action when their elderly loved one and the general public's safety is at risk.

To discuss these concepts or gaining access to resources to help cover transportation costs, please schedule a consultation with one of our Florida elder law attorneys.