When should you hand over the keys?

My step-dad Bill’s last car was a 1965 Mustang. It was a beauty – sporty looking and fun to drive. He was always a car guy and had a new car every few years, but that Mustang sure held a special place in his heart. I have great memories of my dad and mom, very active members of the local Mustang Owners Club, participating in road rallies, Mustang caravans to Vegas and other fun social outings. That car was not just reliable transportation.  It was his alter ego.


My dad was the proud owner of a license to drive for over 60 years.  Like most of us, driving was part of his identity.  It gave him freedom. And as he aged, it helped him hold on to his vitality and his “youth” – well past anything that resembled actual youth .

I don’t remember for sure, but I think he was about 80 when he gave up driving and the Mustang.  He sold it to two women friends who loved it almost as much as he did.  He was happy to see it go to a good home.  I’m sure it was bittersweet.

Giving up the keys was not an easy decision, but as I look back, I realize it was one he made with grace and much wisdom.  We didn’t have to worry about him on the road, we didn’t have to have “the talk” or to wrestle the keys from his hand.  He knew it was time.  And he rose to the occasion.  Thank you Bill!

After he’d given up his car, Bill used to visit me in Oregon and talk wistfully about driving.  I would offer him my keys but he never took me up on the offer.  I didn’t think much about any of this at the time.  Now that I am older and wiser, and growing closer to the time when I will have to make that decision myself, I am grateful.  Especially when I see my friends struggling with their parents who are well into their 80’s or 90’s and still behind the wheel.

How do you know when it’s time? There’s no magic number. It’s different for each of us and it is a life changing moment – relinquishing of your personal freedom, your independence and along with that some of your dignity.  Not a decision any one of us takes lightly.

Most of my peers are in their 60’s or early 70’s and giving up the keys seems like something in the very distant future. Hell, we’re still young. We’re healthy. We’re world travelers or marathon runners. We’re not the problem.

Until we are.

I’m not saying anyone I know should give up the keys…yet.  But it should be on the table for discussion.  I want to follow my step-dad’s lead and know when it’s the right time and have a plan.   He gave up the keys and took up walking.  I think the walking is what kept him fit and healthy into his late 80’s.

I sent this video to a friend who is struggling with “the key issue” with her parents.  It sheds an interesting light on the question “when is the right time?”  Listening to 97-year-old Evelyn puts a whole new spin on the current thinking. At least it did mine.

Perhaps the freeways of the future will be filled with centenarians swooping in and out of traffic in their mini convertibles.  And, although I can’t picture myself not being able to drive my own car, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that either.

What I know for sure is that we will all be there sooner than we think.

I’m throwing this out for discussion… talk amongst yourselves…or better yet, leave your thoughts, experiences and brilliant ideas in the Comments below.

Now, where did I put my keys?


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8 thoughts on “When should you hand over the keys?

  1. An important part of aging in place for me is to live where I can get to public transportation within a block or 2. I suppose there may come a time when that will be too challenging too. The Village concept is really taking off in Portland. There are now villages forming in every quadrant.

    • Judy, I totally agree about aging in place and being near public transportation. That is what made it work for my dad in Vancouver and unfortunately it is a challenge if you live in the burbs (carlandia). The freedom to come and go as you please is vital to growing old with dignity. I wrote a post a while back about the village concept. I think it’s brilliant! Can’t wait to see you soon and take a tour of the roadtreker.

  2. I love this video. Reminds me of my grandmother who also took an older friend to the store twice a week. They lived in California where car is freedom. I feel that way too, but I’ve noticed that people in the city, or at least here in Barcelona, don’t make that connection and some NEVER learn to drive! They don’t feel the need.

    • I would love to move next to areas where walking if easy and a car (for the most part) not necessary. Hopefully I will get to try that out very soon. P.S. Love your new 7 days in Barcelona Guide.

  3. Perfect topic, really. My great-grandmother, at the age of 98 (I was 8) was still driving in a very small town in MN. She drove until she passed on – not much later. So, geography and demographics of the city (lots of retirees) made a difference for her. She had excellent eyesight, too. My parents are driving in their 80s now. My mom has stopped driving in the night due to eyesight issues (I do the same!). But the town is full of slow-driving retirees. The entire town knew an old guy who was well into his 90s that was still puttering about in his vintage car, never having a problem. My in-laws were split: mom willingly gave up her keys while dad refused – scaring everyone with his new dings on the car, blaming everyone but himself for bad driving. Being a huge and stubborn old man with good eyesight, there was nothing we could do. Thanks, Nancy for bringing up this topic.

  4. What a tough thing. My grandma never did drive so it wasn’t an issue for her. It will be interesting to see how my parents handle it and then us … oh my! I love the lady in the video … so determined to help!

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