Experts Weigh In On When To Take The Keys

May 26, 2017


Is it time to take away the keys?  How to broach the subject with older adults who put other drivers at risk.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, so you can expect an increase in motorists navigating eastern North Carolina’s rural roads and highways.  To make it even trickier, slow paced texters and drivers going way over the speed limit are going to be on the road, so it pays to beware during drive time at major intersections in Greenville, Jacksonville and New Bern.  And, accidents here in eastern North Carolina keeps climbing.  According to the latest numbers from the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, there were more than 251,000 crashes in the state in 2015, a 10 percent increase over the previous year.  Patrol Sergeant with Havelock Police Department Kimberly Tutwieler.

“Every 15 minutes in the United States of America, we lose a life because someone is driving while distracted or driving impaired.”

Any number of distractions can cause accidents.  But DMV statistics prove that certain populations are more likely to experience collisions, teenagers lead that list with seniors not far behind.

“It’s kind of a maturity thing.  Adults have more life experience and they have been around longer than our young drivers.”

The Havelock Police Department led a program at Havelock High School on Thursday challenging students to think about how the decisions they make behind the wheel.

“Everybody has their phones, they have gps, they have whatever music playing. It is a huge, huge safety factor right now.”

Officer Tutweiler described the “Every 15 Minute Program” which graphically displayed a major crash scene. 

“After the wreck, Munden Funeral Homes even brought in a hearse and we unloaded a casket out of the hearse.  We had a little, mock memorial for the innocent student that was killed.  I was looking around in the crowd and I think we got our point across.”

Knowing when to intervene is important when dealing with a teenager, confiscating their keys is always an parents.  But what if it’s a parent who’s the unsafe driver?  Many times, it falls on adult children to initiate that tough conversation.  Managing director of Home Instead Senior Care JD Bobbitt says the role-reversal can be difficult for some seniors to accept.

“People are living longer now than they did so we’re more likely to experience this than when people were dying younger.  Your parent took care of you, they raised you, they advised you and they brought you up and most of the time, they are not very accepting of that role-reversal.  So you have to approach that very carefully.”

Before immediately having that a conversation, there are several ways to pinpoint driving difficulties.  Mysterious dents, trouble turning to see when backing up and difficulty parking are all indicators. 

“It’s small things.  I call it road rash.  Usually, it’s a fender or a bumper.  It’s not real big and they might not even know it happened.   It might be the mailbox that’s knocked over. There’s more than one new garage door in this town for people who drove through a door that was either not all the way open, or it was coming down or going up.  So those are lapses in judgement or thinking that you can see pretty clearly.”

Delayed reaction and response, riding the brake, driving the wrong speed and difficulty staying in the lane are all clear signs it’s time to for “the talk,” not about the birds and the bees, but about giving up the keys.  JD says if you notice a family member or friend driving erratically, it’s a great time to bring it up before a major accident occurs.

“If they have some little scare, that might make it a little easier if you can point out hey, we’ve noticed that you’re not exactly in the parking space.  Are you having any trouble?  If they admit to it, then you can carry on down that path.”

This was the case with JD’s mother, Harriot Bobbitt. 

“I remember riding with her and to be honest, she scared the daylights out of me.  Pulling into a parking space at what I would consider faster than normal and knowing that you might have a quarter inch between her front fender and the left side of that other car… it’s scary.”

Mrs. Bobbit is 86 years old and she hasn’t driven in six years. She’s among 85 percent of older adults who decide to give up their keys on their own. 

“The thing was I had neuropathy in my right foot and I noticed it all the sudden when I tried to put on brakes.  I couldn’t feel the accelerator and that’s sort of alarming to say the least.”

People age 66 and older are required to renew their driver’s license and pass a vision test every five years while everyone else must renew every eight years.  When it was time to renew her license, she never did.  Mrs. Bobbitt says it was a personal decision that she doesn’t regret.  Even today, she doesn’t have trouble getting around.

“I had always thought that I would be wild if someone took my car away from me because I like driving.  I still have it, because my caregivers drive me when I have to go somewhere like the doctor or anything like that.”

Even though giving up her keys took away some freedom, she says it was a small sacrifice for the safety of herself and others.

“I don’t want to die and I certainly don’t want anyone else to die because of my carelessness. I didn’t pitch a fit like I thought I would.”

If you try to have a conversation with a family member, a friend or a neighbor that’s having difficulty driving and they won’t listen, intervention from the Department of Motor Vehicles may be an option.  Public Relations Officer Patrice Bethea.

“Our medical review unit may restrict or cancel the license of any age driver based on their visual acuity, their driving history, it could be the medicines prescribed by their doctor, their mental competency may come into question and then certainly at the recommendation of their doctors.”

The request for driver re-examination form can be filled out and submitted to the DMV where the medical review unit will investigate each case. 

“We’ll contact the driver and have them go back into the driver’s license office nearest their home and take another driving test, behind the wheel test.” 

In the majority of cases, Bethea says they impose restrictions instead of revoking someone’s license.  For instance someone with vision problems may be limited to driving only during the daytime.

“We understand that sometimes their family members or loved ones might not be the ones to take the keys from their driver or loved one, so the DMV is here to help support that and further investigate if there is a need for any restrictions.”

If it is time to have the talk with a family member about their dangerous driving, JD Bobbitt says do it sooner rather than later.

“You don’t want to have this conversation when somebody’s already in the hospital.”

JD’s mother, Harriot Bobbitt encourages seniors to make the decision to surrender the keys for themselves.

“If I had anything to say to the people that are my age bracket, they really do need to think about it.  And if it is time for them to give it up, they will feel better about it if they make the decision rather than have one of their children tell them it’s time.”

For more information on the Request for Driver Re-examination program, go to:

To access the form, go to: