How to stop a dying woman from driving (legally, safely)
December 3, 2010 7:51 AM   Subscribe

How to safely and legally stop my elderly mom from driving. Complication: She's in hospice (yes, really). Special snowflake WTF details inside.

Yessireebob, you heard that one right. My mom is in hospice, dying of metastatic colon cancer. And she still insists on driving. Yes, you heard that one right. She's in hospice, officially DYING, with (at best) 3 months to live; now it's looking more like a month. And she thinks she's safe to drive. Anyone with any experience in taking keys away forcibly from an incompetent driver, hope me please!

I just found this out. I've been running her errands for her, driving her to the hairdresser and so on. My Dad lives in a care home but he's still lucid (though that's also going) and he told me that she drove to visit the other day! I did not know this. (I don't live with her, I live in the next city over.)

She's starting to get forgetful and confused with the buildup of liver toxins. I worry that she'll do some serious damage.

Will she listen to me? Oh no. I'm The Kid, and the kid doesn't get to tell her what to do. Aside from my dad, we have no family - I'm an only child and my uncle, mom's brother, is dead. Plus she's paranoid and refuses to even tell my dad how bad off she is (she's using a hospital bed now but Dad Mustn't Know.)

The hospice nurse visits her today, and I am going to broach the subject with her and get her backup. I know mom will scream and fuss and maybe not speak to me, but I'm gobsmacked that she's still driving! And, if I stop her from driving, that means she can't make me drive to the lawyer to cut me out of her will (ha ha).

The most important question: Can I legally take the keys away? She's not legally incompetent (yet), dying or no. I plan to do this - take away the keys - as long as she can't get on the phone and scream "elder abuse!" I think any cop she calls will agree with me. I will be her chauffeur as needed - she still wants to go play cards and visit my dad, mostly.

I've never had to take keys away before - my dad voluntarily stopped driving when he thought he was a hazard. But mom - she's always loved to drive and prided herself on her driving skills. And I'm not credible in her eyes. But this has GOT to stop.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get the doctor to write a note suspending her license?
posted by anniecat at 7:55 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

As in, take the note to the DMV or wherever?
posted by anniecat at 7:55 AM on December 3, 2010

I'm so sorry that you're going through this. Is there any way to get her doctor to tell her she can't drive anymore? It's been my experience that older people will listen to their doctors long before they listen to their children/grandchildren.
posted by sugarfish at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2010

After my father had a stroke, his Doctor revoked his license. I am pretty sure the Doctor did not have a choice, he was bound by either legal or ethical reasons to do so (IANAL or D). Speak with your mom's doctor, they may have some authority in revoking a license based on medical reasons. Or, at the very least, being told not to drive by her Doctor would be more effective then if you did.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2010

I know this is anon and all, but do you have any proof that she's been driving, other than your father's story? I ask because you said his lucidity is waning and well...

Can the hospice nurse do a simple test of your mother's reflexes to show that she's just not well enough to drive? After my grandfather had his stroke, no one in the family could convince him that he couldn't drive. Sugarfish is absolutely right; your best bet is a health professional backing you up.
posted by giraffe at 8:02 AM on December 3, 2010

Just take the spark plugs out of the car.
posted by timdicator at 8:03 AM on December 3, 2010 [22 favorites]

I also think approaching her doctor is the right call. Whatever you do decide to do, and I'm sure you know this, but do it with utmost kindness and love. I'm so sorry for what she and you and anyone close to you are going through.
posted by ORthey at 8:05 AM on December 3, 2010

My grandmother's doctor had her license revoked. It might depend on the state, but I assume all have a similar procedure. Call one of your mother's doctors.
posted by elpea at 8:06 AM on December 3, 2010

I agree with timdictator, taking the spark plugs won't necessarily make her freak out. I know I'd freak out if I couldn't find my keys. And presumably she's still allowed to walk places, right? No spark plugs = no working car. That could be anything.

But I would talk to the doctors first.
posted by theichibun at 8:08 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just take the spark plugs out of the car.

Agreed; something mechanical is wrong with the car. You don't need to fight for the keys. It's a kindness to make the issue something else.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:11 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
I'm on the stick to Mom's doctor, but this has happened SO fast, is the main problem. Mom was put into hospice just two weeks ago, and I was so a) stunned and grieving and b) busy scheduling all kinds of hospice stuff that I wasn't paying attention to the driving. I don't know how fast doctor's notes work, and this is time-intensive. She might be dead by the time my request wends its way through the system (and that would solve my problem).

My main concern is that she hurts someone else.

As for sparkplugs, honestly, I know goose egg about car mechanics so I wouldn't know where to look or how to remove them without doing some damage. I don't do DIY.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2010

Physicians are not only permitted but required to contact the authorities when they suspect that one of their patients is no longer competent to drive. Contact her doctor and ask him to do this. Most of them are happy to do this not only because it's good for the public, but because it improves family relations, i.e. the doctor telling mom she can't drive doesn't require the son to be the bad guy.

My dad is a cardiologist and he does this all the time.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2010 [6 favorites]

Disable the car so she can't start it, then approach her doctor with the situation.
posted by crankylex at 8:13 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A relative of mine lost his license after someone reported him to the DMV. As far as my family knows, the report was made by a stranger calling in his license plate. The DMV investigated and found that he wasn't fit to drive. You could try that if the doctor can't or won't help.
posted by Mavri at 8:14 AM on December 3, 2010

Report her to the DMV. They can take care of it. Let her know ahead of time. Get her to agree.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:14 AM on December 3, 2010

OP, do you have any friends with mechanical knowledge? Failing that, is there a trusted family mechanic? I bet if you explained the situation, you could get someone to come over and do it for you. It would only take a few minutes.

Or she could "lose" her keychain. There's no need for formally take her keys and make a big thing about it.
posted by crankylex at 8:17 AM on December 3, 2010

Can Dad's caretakers confirm that Mom's been over? My grandfather was pretty solidly enthused to have had me visit before he died-- except that I was nowhere near the area, and everyone knew it.

The DMV generally works fairly quickly to get people off the road at doctors' recommendation. You're on the right track.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2010

Sorry if I missed anything, but can she still drive? It is not like she has dementia. I assume if she can get herself into the car and is still able-bodied to walk if she didn't have one, that she'd be able to operate a motor vehicle.

Also, realize to the elderly, the car is their last sign of independence. Sure, they could call you, but needing someone to drive them around is a bit demeaning. If she's still in a bit of denial about the state she's in, taking the car away is a bigger deal than loss of a convenience.

I don't like the idea of sabotaging the car. There's very clear legal means to go about this and you don't want your last months filled with resentment and paranoia.
posted by geoff. at 8:25 AM on December 3, 2010 [10 favorites]

Disable the car so she can't start it, then approach her doctor with the situation.

Yep, yep. This is what we did with my great-grandfather (after he insisted on driving and got into an accident backing up on the interstate after missing his exit) and it worked like a charm. If you don't know how to do it yourself, ask a friend for help.
posted by something something at 8:26 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not suggesting you let her continue driving, but however you address this please consider your mothers feelings here too. She knows she is dying. She knows she doesn't have long. You said she loves driving. Just remember that - and remember that you want her last days/weeks/months here to be as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. It would feel awful to irritate/anger her to the point of not speaking to you or desiring to write you out of her will, and then she dies shortly after.

Good luck.
posted by ish__ at 8:30 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ate you sure that she for sure is not competent to drive? I wouldn't think that the fact that she's dying would necessarily imply she shouldn't be driving. But if you think that's the case, then as others have said, you should be able to get her doctor to make that determination and then take the necessary steps.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2010

I assume if she can get herself into the car and is still able-bodied to walk if she didn't have one, that she'd be able to operate a motor vehicle.

Operating a motor vehicle and doing so safely are two very different things. Anyone can drive a car; it isn't hard. Driving while intoxicated is very illegal because your reflexes are slow and your attention span is short. This is no different whether the drugs you are taking are illegal or prescribed.

She should not be driving and OP is right to ask the question. It is not an uncommon issue, clearly. Anyone suggesting that Dad may be confused is missing the point. She is heavily medicated and if she isn't driving she might try it when she is further down the path, which would be even worse. It needs to end now.

I don't like the idea of sabotaging the car. There's very clear legal means to go about this and you don't want your last months filled with resentment and paranoia.

With all due respect, I'm willing to bet that OP will be more upset if his mother dies in an accident or worse, kills someone else, because he was worried about the legality of disabling her car until further action was taken. To get her doctor to revoke her license could take several weeks. That's too long.

Forgive me if I'm a little touchy about this. My grandfather died and killed two people because no one would take his keys away. Fuck decorum, this shit is dangerous.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:47 AM on December 3, 2010 [18 favorites]

As for sparkplugs, honestly, I know goose egg about car mechanics so I wouldn't know where to look or how to remove them without doing some damage.

Don't jerk around with the spark plugs; far simpler is to either pull a fuse or the battery wire. Or spend $100 at the mechanics having a kill switch put in.

I assume you've flipped a circuit breaker in your life or changed a fuse. In almost every car the fuse box is under the dash by the steering wheel. Poke your head around and look for a box - it's meant to be accessible so you can change them. You'll want to yank one for something important sounding like IGNITION or STARTER. You'll know you did it right when the car doesn't start when you turn the key.

Or if you are comfortable using an open-ended wrench, learn to loosen the battery wire and disconnect it when you stop the car. You can go to any auto parts store and they usually have folks who will help you with a battery. Tell them what your problem is and they'll surely be sympathetic and sell you a wrench and show you what to do.

Or you can buy a cheap kill switch like this knob model or this knife-switch model there and ask them to show you how to install it (or offer one of them $20 to put it on - it's a trivial thing).

The kill switch or yanking the battery wire will reset all the radio presets and keep your car alarm/keyless entry from functioning but will be otherwise harmless.

Your only real risk here is that it'll be obvious to anyone from a tow company or AAA if she were to call them.
posted by phearlez at 8:48 AM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

By the way, any big box auto parts store will have those kill switches - you do not need to buy the ones via Amazon and wait for shipping. I linked them simply for visual aid.
posted by phearlez at 8:50 AM on December 3, 2010

Let us (presumably via the admins) know what make/model of car she has, we'll tell you how to pull the ignition fuse. (It'll consist of removing a small cover from the dashboard, yanking the fuse out, and returning the cover.) No cost, no DIY, we can even find pictures/diagrams for you. This method of disabling a car even wards of car thieves, who can't figure out that it isn't an installed cut-off switch within the 60 seconds or so that they give themselves.

Don't randomly pull fuses, though. You'll end up with the side effect of possibly breaking something, and you'll be in trouble if you don't know how to put it back whenever you might need to move the car in the future.
posted by Citrus at 9:04 AM on December 3, 2010

If the hospice has a social worker, you might ask her/him for advice.
posted by Carol Anne at 9:12 AM on December 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

My father and his siblings had to actually take my grandparents' car out of their garage because my grandfather refused to stop driving even after the DMV revoked his license (my grandmother still has her license and could drive in a pinch, though she prefers not to). They did this with my grandmother's consent, though my grandfather blew his top (not unusual, it's just part of his decline). I do NOT recommend this as a first step, especially in your situation, but I thought it might help you to know that others have taken desperate measures.

I agree with getting in touch with the doctor and the DMV as soon as possible. I hope your mother is more reasonable than my grandfather, and that the issue really is just hearing this message from someone she considers to be an authority. You said there's no one personally close, but does she have an attorney you can contact? A call from her attorney laying out the potential consequences - say, especially for her estate and your father's well-being should she kill someone while driving - might be authoritative enough.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this on top of what must be a tremendously difficult emotional time. I'll keep you, your mother, and your father in my thoughts.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 9:13 AM on December 3, 2010

Three grandparents stopped driving by three different methods:

- Grandparent without dementia: my mother said to him "and when you hit the queue of children waiting for the bus, what then?". Getting over to him the severity of the situation was enough; I know that if that hadn't worked my mum was going to go into horrific, gory detail as to the pain, injury and misery he could potentially cause.

- Bloody stubborn grandparent without dementia: reported to the DVLA (UK equivalent of DMV) by her doctor after we told her doctor she intended to start driving again.

- Grandparent with dementia: in a variation on the spark plugs principle, car went to the garage for a service and never came back. Grandparent was known by everyone in the village to have dementia and shouldn't really be driving, and at the same time was held in great fondness, so plan was hatched between local doctor and mechanic. Car was parked out the back of the garage, and if she phoned/called in she'd be given the same answer about it being a couple of days before they could get a part.

I think this covers the spectrum of options you have right now: persuasion, reporting or immobilisation. Each of those was appropriate for different grandparents for different reasons.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:20 AM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please do not sabotage your mother's car or steal her keys. If your mother is still lucid and has her mental faculties about her, you'd be a jerk to do that, not to mention that it'd be completely illegal if you do not have power of attorney.

You can approach the doctors with this issue in private. If they agree that she is unable to drive, they can be the ones to play "Bad Cop," and take her keys. Also, do remember that being in hospice, and being able to drive are not necessarily mutually-exclusive things.

You don't want to ruin your relationship with your mother during the last few months of her life. If the doctor/nurse tells her she can't drive, she'll view it as a (somewhat depressing) medical decision. If you tell her she can't drive, she will almost certainly take it personally, and will probably blame you if her keys suddenly disappear, or the car suddenly won't start. You don't want this to happen, especially when there are other gentler routes to accomplish your goal.

There is also likely a social worker at the hospice who will be able to mediate this issue for you -- I'd imagine that this sort of thing comes up rather frequently for them.
posted by schmod at 9:25 AM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have two friends who have found themselves in the awful position of having to wrest the keys from a parent's hand - and then that parent subsequently called the police. The police know the score on these sad situations, and they were very kind and helpful to my friends, in both instances. I only have that anecdotal evidence to offer, but I'm sure that enough documentation of your mother's illness exists to prove your case.

I know that you really want to avoid that type of blowout, but if worst comes to worst, I don't believe that you have to fear any legal repercussions from such an action.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2010

Get her an account with a 24 hour taxi service - that might be a good compromise for a modicum of independence.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:47 AM on December 3, 2010 [12 favorites]

Just because she's dying doesn't necessarily mean she's incompetent. Your post doesn't say anything about her being incompetent. If you haven't yet, check with her doctor and the hospice nurse about your concerns before you leap in and start dismantling her car and independence during her last days on earth.

If the MD and nurse say yes, driving's a bad idea, make sure she has some other way to get around that isn't you. Can you set up a standing taxi order, for instance?
posted by small_ruminant at 9:50 AM on December 3, 2010

I have no idea why you'd go through the DMV at this point; why would a dying person care if she gets a ticket for driving with a revoked license? They're not going to send her to jail.

I think you should give her a chance to give you the keys voluntarily, and if she refuses, go with the kill switch/ignition fuse method outlined above. This is probably against the law, but I would be surprised if you were actually prosecuted (I am not any kind of legal professional).

Also, give her money for taxis so she can visit your dad whenever she wants even if you're not available for chauffeuring.

I'm so sorry you have to deal with all this.
posted by desjardins at 9:52 AM on December 3, 2010

We successfully stopped my Grandmother from driving (after she careened across four lanes of traffic and sideswiped another car and had NO IDEA how it had happened, and had advanced Alzheimer's) by taking out the sparkplugs as others have mentioned. I think driving her car to her mechanic and explaining the situation may work as well.

But thank you for doing the hard thing, on behalf of the rest of us who drive. A friend's mom was recently killed by an elderly driver. Legislation needs to be tougher, but I don't hold out hope any politician will ever lobby for it, since it's career suicide.
posted by kpht at 9:56 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not only is strong-arming the keys away from your mom or sabotaging the car going to spoil your relationship with her, it is also going to make the last months of her life miserable. It must be horrible to feel your time running out and not be able to go see the people you want to see and do the things you want to do in the time you have left.

Are you certain that her driving is impaired or are you just assuming that she must be due to her illness? I would definitely ask her doctor what he/she thinks, rather than going in with the intention of making your case and getting him on your side. Maybe he can help her work out a medication plan that would allow her some pain relief when she plans to drive without causing impairment.

If she is actually impaired and must be stopped from driving, make sure she has some reliable, readily available options for getting around. Like make sure she has ready money for taxis & that she knows how to call one; or get her a helper who can drive her around regularly on fairly short notice; or see if her town has a pickup service for handicapped people. Something she knows she can use whenever she wants to go wherever she wants, rather than feeling completely dependent on your time and availability.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Aside from all of the other answers, what's her status on dealing with power of attorney paperwork? On the one hand, this (driving) is a specific issue that might warrant looking into that. Unfortunately, I'm very familiar with the liver buildup/memory issues problem. There will be many other things requiring her consent in the days and weeks ahead, and you need to nail that stuff down ASAP before that problem, and others, get worse.

I know you've got so much going through your head right now, and so many things to take care of, Although it's time-consuming (for good reason -- it needs to be thorough), making sure that any will/trust/POA paperwork is complete and accessible should be at the top of your list.

Wishing you strength and peace in the days ahead.
posted by Madamina at 10:02 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

We had an experience with my mother's best friend whose doctor called us, as my mom's friend's kids and grandkids all live far away and she had given our number for local emergency. She got lost going to the doctor's where she had been many times, the doctor got concerned, and took action. This lady lived on a busy highway where she had to back out, so the danger was great to her and others.

My brother took her keys, explained to her that she could not safely drive any more, and her daughter arranged to have her flown out to California where her kids live. We took her to motor vehicle for a photo ID so she could get on the plane, and took her to the airport. She lived several more years with her daughter, finally dying in a hospice facility from Alzheimers.

This was all accomplished smoothly. A friend told his senile father-in-law who had wrecked several cars that the police demanded he turn his license in, so he did. We were fortunate that my parents stopped driving voluntarily when they became old and physically disabled, but mentally they were ok and rational about it all.

You need to do whatever it takes to stop her driving, because other younger lives may be at stake. I know it is hard and she may get nasty, but it has to be done.
posted by mermayd at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with sabotage, we keep all keys locked out of my grandmothers reach. She is unable to drive but might not remember it. Disable the car, Disable the car, Disable the car. I do not care whose relationship it spoils, what argument it makes or who it hurts. Killing another person worse by a mile and it happens all the time and the car starts if you have a licence or not.

If you have AAA they will help. Anybody with an understanding of cars can do it. I have no idea where you are, but if you are near me Memail me and I can do it for you.

Good luck with a rough situation.
posted by Felex at 10:18 AM on December 3, 2010

Another thing - is there any bus services that shuttle people around in the area?

Maybe she'd be more ok relinquishing the keys if she knows there's a way to visit your dad and play poker?

There's a service where I live run by the transit company that takes disabled/elderly people right to where they need to go without costing more than the normal bus fare.
posted by addelburgh at 11:36 AM on December 3, 2010

I thought the taxi service idea was a great one -- it'll let her get around at a lower cost than killing somebody.
posted by zug at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2010

The doctor can contact the authorities and mom's license can be officially suspended/revoked, but that won't keep her from getting behind the wheel. Nthing those above who said to heck with decorum, disable the car somehow - sadly, there comes a time when you have to do whatever necessary to keep a potentially dangerous driver off the road. My Dad said his doctor didn't know what he was talking about when he pulled his license. It wasn't until he sideswiped a parked car (thankfully no one was in it) and the owner ran out and started screaming that Dad finally decided to let Mom drive when they needed to go somewhere. I saw a special on Discovery Health or one of those types of channels about dementia, and it mentioned that even when patients couldn't remember their spouse's or children's name, a large percentage of them still tried to drive (if they could find their keys, etc).
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:54 AM on December 3, 2010

We've had this happen with two elders in the family.

1) Report her to the DMV. This happens pretty quickly, in our case about a week after the report was issued, we received paperwork. In the case of the first elder, just getting around to dealing with the paperwork solved the problem. The elder kept the paperwork around, bitched about the DMV, but never got around to dealing with the paperwork (and agreed that they shouldn't be driving until they cleared it up with the DMV for legal reasons). So whenever they discuss driving, we get out the paperwork and offer to mail it for them, take them to the DMV, etc when they are done with it. Problem solved, elder doesn't feel like anyone is stopping them but THE MAN, and the family knows everyone is safer.

2) Elder number two didn't fill out the forms, either, and thinks they should, but still has no problem with driving. I minorly disabled the car then told them it wouldn't start. They didn't even check, just asked that I get AAA to have it towed to the mechanic. It has been six months, the car is still at the mechanic. As a failsafe (and for other reasons), we also took the elder's driver's license, which they have been cool about since it was "needed" for others in the family to take care of paperwork/forms for them.

Both times we have been assisted in the process by having elders who are slowing down cognitively. I don't feel at all guilty about lying to either of them "I have no idea WHY the DMV would be sending you this! It is so unfair!" because I know that they would feel hurt if they knew we had an active role. Instead, they still have a supportive, loving family, and the DMV gets to be the "bad guy".

In your case, I would strongly encourage you to disable the car, and make it very clear that you're available 24/7 for rides. I know this is a strain on you (as it is on me), but tell her that if she calls, you or another family member would be there in <1>
Good luck.

PS- The doctor can also do this, as can a police officer, but you can do it far more expeditiously yourself.
posted by arnicae at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2010

First of all, I'm sorry about your mom's condition. This must be an incredibly tough time for you, even without the concerns about her driving.

I concur with the idea of acting in collaboration with your mom's doctor. Depending on where you are (I'm assuming that you're in the U.S.), the physician may actually be required to notify the DMV if a patient has a medical condition or is taking a medication that may affect his or her ability to drive safely.

This guide, aimed at docs and created by the AMA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Information, presents info on state licensing and reporting requirements*. It also talks about formal assessments, physician interventions, counseling a patient who is no longer OK to drive, a doc's legal and ethical responsibilities, and conditions and medications that may impair driving. *(Note: The guide is copyright 2003, so you may want to double-check the licensing and reporting requirements for your state if you have any questions.)

It is vastly difficult, esp. in this society, to convince people that it is in their and others' best interest to stop driving. The ability to go where you want, when you want, for how long you want, and with whom you want is a powerful symbol of adulthood and agency.

A dear friend/ex-SO is in hospice with advanced, inoperable brain cancer, which initially manifested itself as three consecutive grand mal seizures. Though he was immediately advised to stop driving, because his seizure risk continued (anticonvulsant drugs didn't help a lot, unfortunately), he continued to drive for at least 4-5 months after being diagnosed 18 months ago. (I know this, even though I moved after we broke up, because he was seen behind the wheel in his small town before he went out of state for more advanced treatment.)

Another anecdote: I visit Ex-SO every weekend [which for me is Wednesday/Thursday -- mine is a profession in which schedules often are bassackwards]. So yesterday, when he asked me for a family update, I told him that my sister and BIL had bought a used Volvo wagon to cart around the kiddos. "Oh, Volvos are great, they're probably going to be my next car," he remarked. That broke my heart.
posted by virago at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

National Highway Transportation Safety Information

more commonly (and correctly) known as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
posted by virago at 12:49 PM on December 3, 2010

My grandfather did this after having several strokes (!). Having his license revoked did not help as he would still sneak out with a hidden set of keys (later, when he was in a nursing home, he tried to just walk out several times--dude was determined to go to the grocery store, apparently, and pick up his paper). We ultimately had to just take the car away.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2010

Her palliative care medications are strong and will get stronger. You might be able to accomplish a lot by having her hospice nurse (an outside authority who "knows about these things") explain to her how powerful her medications are and how dangerous it would be to drive while taking them. (So that the focus is on the medications, not her driving skills.)

Also, driving, while the most likely to injure others, isn't the only potentially dangerous activity for an ill or medicated person to undertake. Cooking, even using a microwave, can result in a house fire. Walking on uneven ground to get the mail may cause a fall. A house can be a dangerous place when you aren't well and live alone. It's hard to contemplate, especially because your mother seems quite independent, but maybe the bigger picture is that it's time for around-the-clock supervision.
posted by Jaie at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2010

The hospice should have social workers who are experienced in dealing with this exact situation. Call and ask to speak to a social worker--they should coordinate between the doctor and the RMV.

Then, once Mom's license has been revoked, sell the car (because, as others have said, what does she have to lose by driving without a license?)

I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. My deepest sympathies to you. The hospice folks are there to help you as well as your mother, so feel free to lean on them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:23 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The art in this is to use the doctor/hospice staff as the scapegoat. Why? Because they have very little emotional involvement and they have seen this many more times than you ever will.

So, talk with the staff. Find out if *they* think it's a bad idea for her to drive. Express your misgivings and let them take that into account. Then let them tell your mom.

You can keep your relationship by saying, "hey mom - I found out that they want to revoke your license, do you know what's up with that? Do you want me to have a talk with them?" Of course, once you have a talk with them (which will be something like, "hey thanks for doing that, don't ever let my mom know I was involved in the decision.") you can say, "I talked with them, mom, and it's out of my hands. I don't know what I can do."
posted by plinth at 1:42 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm am also dealing with elderly relatives who can't care for themselves properly anymore, and have a mother with an analogous problem, so you have my empathy.

Here is how this works best in New York State: a concerned relative (or a doctor) can contact the DMV (= Department of Motor Vehicles), and it will do one of the following depending on the circumstances: (i) revoke the person's license or (ii) inform the individual that, to keep his license, he must take an in-vehicle road test. In a case like yours, the DMV would probably go straight to revocation.

Unfortunately, elder care advocates like "geriatric care managers" often advise the person in your situation to either disable the car or make it, the car, disappear. This is very bad advice because property damage and car theft are, well, against the law. As I have been informed by both the police and legal counsel, if the elderly individual calls the police because, say, the car is missing, even when the police suspect what has happened and why, they are required to follow up to find the culprit -- with the result that the well-meaning, safety-conscious relative can wind up with thousand of dollars in legal bills, a criminal conviction and jail time.

So your best bet is to contact the local licensing-granting authority, explain the situation and request that her license be revoked. Good luck and hang in there!
posted by cool breeze at 3:23 PM on December 3, 2010

I'm so sorry that you're going through this. You're doing the right thing; she could hurt herself or someone else. Talk to the folks at the hospice to see if there's a support group for you; it's hard to do this on your own.
posted by theora55 at 6:11 PM on December 3, 2010

I feel for you. An elderly friend with a broken shoulder insisted he was going right to the bank the next day (from when we were visiting him). I was scared and tempted to call the police, but had no authority in his life (PoA, etc). His niece came on her own and hid his keys where he'd never think to look - the glove box. It was definitely not safe for him to drive. He ended up dying less than a month later after he fell and hit his head.

Understand that driving is their last bit of freedom... once it's taken away, that's it, they are dependent on someone else. That's part of why it's so hard.

Please do *something* suggested in this thread. Last spring, an elderly woman here hit a pedestrian and didn't even know she'd hit someone until a witness told her. The pedestrian was killed.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:06 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might also explore a bit re why she is driving. I find it interesting that she and her husband are in different homes and the incident cited is of her driving to visit him. If I were dying, I'd want to spend as much time with my husband as possible. Can they be at the same center?
posted by beaning at 12:17 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

An easier trick than pulling sparkplugs is to just remove the coil wire to the distributor. Assuming the car HAS a distributor, of course. Some new models don't have one any more.

Each cylinder has a sparkplug. Attached to it is a plug wire and that goes back to the distributor. The distributor is generally a cylindrical item about the size of a baseball (or larger). It'll have wires coming out of the top, in a circle. Those are the plug wires. At the center of the distributor will be another wire that leads away from it. That's the coil wire. Pull that wire. By doing so you'll prevent the engine from getting the spark it needs to start. The engine will crank but won't turn over. Simply plug the coil wire back in to let it start normally.

As for your Mom, yeesh, the poor woman's only got 3 months to live. Don't make those last few precious weeks miserable for her. If you're just "the kid" then how is yanking her driving out from under her going to help make this difficult time better for the BOTH of you? Almost smacks of vengeance, disguised as "concern". There's got to be some middle ground here.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:02 PM on December 4, 2010

Almost smacks of vengeance, disguised as "concern".

What? The woman has an estimated three months to live. At what point do you think she will cross the imaginary bright line that marks "as of now, incapable of driving"? Two months from now? A month? A week? A week ago?

You don't know. I don't know. The OP has a better chance of knowing than either one of us. The OP's mother's doctor probably has the best chance of all. And since the possible consequences of being over-optimistic are so serious, temporarily disabling the car until it's possible to contact the doctor is probably the most prudent idea.
posted by Lexica at 9:32 PM on December 4, 2010

If she wants to be able to drive to go play cards and see your dad, I think the previous recommendations of a taxi service on call is fantastic. That way she doesn't have to trouble a family member or friend to go anywhere.
posted by amicamentis at 4:57 AM on December 6, 2010

I am outing myself as the anon asker here (I wanted some plausible deniability, but I don't need it now). I want to thank all of you for your comments, ideas, and support.

The good news is that Mom has seen sense and has agreed to stop driving. I think she was just too proud to admit that she couldn't, safely, drive anymore. This is a woman whom I had to convince that it's OKAY not to dress to shoes and put on lipstick just because I'm coming over on a Sunday morning to keep her company and read the paper. As far as I'm concerned, if you're in hospice, you've earned the right to spend all day in your jammies and slippers.

And for those who thought I was being controlling or catastrophic: My parents live a few blocks away from an elementary school, and the route from my mom's to my dad's care home contains two more schools. There are kids in their subdivision. So the possibility of her plowing into a kid(s) if she was impaired was very real.

The bad news is that she's taken such a dramatic turn for the worse that she couldn't drive if she wanted to. She can barely get up out of her chair, and a trip down the hall is like climbing Mt. Everest. Even if she wanted to drive, she couldn't. And I'm happy to play chauffeur for her in her time left (thank God for a flexible work situation). But I don't know if she's even up to card games anymore. Sucks.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:15 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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