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Physically limiting vehicle access for unsafe drivers


Sometimes a conversation or three isn’t enough to convince an unsafe driver to hang up the keys. For whatever reason—cognitive impairment, fear of losing independence, or even sheer stubbornness—an unsafe driver has refused to stop driving and it has become necessary to physically limit access to motor vehicles. This article shares some tips for keeping an unsafe driver away from the car.

Know your legal rights

If you do not have a legal durable power of attorney for the driver, you may not have the legal right to take possession of their car or keys. Check your state and local laws, and consult your family attorney, before entering any murky territory regarding property rights. If the driver has had their license revoked, you may have some rights to restrict access to the car, but this too varies by state.1 If you do not have legal guardianship or otherwise clear legal rights but still fear that the driver is an imminent danger on the road, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles or the police instead. 

Get backup

The driver might be angry or hurt when they reach for the car keys and they’re not there. In cases of dementia, they might not realize that they’ve already agreed to give up driving, or been legally ordered to do so. Having documentation on hand to show them will make the explanation easier.

  • Get a letter from the doctor. A trusted physician can write a “prescription” for no driving, or a letter to the patient explaining why it is medically mandated that they no longer drive.
  • Get letters from loved ones. Notes to the driver expressing love and concern for their safety might help soften the blow and put the moment into greater perspective.
  • Get legal or medical documentation. The Department of Motor Vehicles might be able to conduct a formal assessment of the driver’s abilities, as might a certified occupational therapist. Depending on where you live, these documents might be legally binding, or might be formal recommendations to restrict or remove driving privileges.

Remove access to the vehicle

Once a driver has become a threat to themselves or others on the road, it is imperative that you keep them from driving again. These steps may seem deceitful or cruel, but if you are certain that a person cannot judge their abilities fairly, the steps may be necessary. 

  • Hide or take the keys. This is especially useful if the driver suffers from cognitive impairment or dementia. It may seem cruel, but it avoids having a painful conversation repeatedly, and if you distract the person, they may simply forget they were planning to drive. 
  • Take the car for repairs or have someone “borrow” the car. Even if it’s only going to another location, lengthy “repairs” can be a temporary solution. Waiting for a part for weeks or months isn’t out of the picture. Similarly, storing the car away from the home—perhaps under the guise of lending it to a family member in need—is a safe way to remove the vehicle while preserving a person’s dignity.
  • Disable the car. Removing the battery, placing a boot on the tire, or placing a club across the steering wheel ensures that no matter how much they want to, an unsafe driver cannot operate the vehicle.
  • Sell the car. As noted, there are significant legal ramifications for taking this kind of drastic action, so be sure you’re empowered to do this. That said, perhaps using the funds from the sale of the car to hire an occasional driver, or for the person to take a vacation, could soften the blow. 

Be persistent but gentle

Know that you are doing the right thing. If the driver has proven to be a danger on the road, it is painful but necessary for their sake and that of others that you remove their access to a vehicle that could harm or kill. 

Related information

Arranging for and conducting a formal driving assessment

Curtailing unsafe driving habits

Durable power of attorney

Factors that contribute to unsafe driving

Getting help with an unsafe driver

Modifying driving habits of older adults

Reviewing driving regulations and legal risks

Unsafe driving warning signs

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