elderly woman driving
Supporting families when it’s time to take away the keys
by Kristin Eastelring

In July 2003, 86-year-old George Weller drove through a crowded Santa Monica, California, farmers market, killing 10 and injuring 70. Weller stated he had confused the gas and brake when he tried to stop the car. The crash led to questions around when seniors should have to give up the keys—a question many families confront.

But giving up driving is a prospect many seniors don’t want to face. Many see the transition as a loss of independence and freedom. For family members, discussions of driving and safety can be difficult to navigate; no one wants to tell their parent that they are a hazard on the road.

Eleven years ago, retired Ohio State Trooper Matt Gurwell decided to change the conversation. He founded Beyond Driving with Dignity, a program designed to facilitate conversations among family members, professionals and the seniors they care for. Senior Care Authority, a senior care consulting firm, purchased the company and program in 2021. Gurwell now acts the program director.

“I saw there was a void in the system on older drivers with diminished driving skills,” Gurwell said. “So, as a way to give back to my community, I developed this self-assessment program ... for seniors whose driving skills are suspect.”

Gurwell built a website for the program, and calls came pouring in from across the country asking for help. But travel wasn’t always an option, so he started training others on the program, creating a group of experts around the country. Several Senior Care Authority franchise owners took notice of the program and got the certification, leading to the acquisition last year.

“I had maxed out on what I was able to do to grow this business,” Gurwell said, adding that now Senior Care Authority is taking the program to the next level, making it more accessible to more families throughout the United States.

About That Name

Gurwell likes to describe the time seniors stop driving as “retiring from driving” or a “graceful transition to the passenger seat.”

“We try not to use aggressive terms,” Gurwell said. “Retiring from driving is something to be proud of, just like retiring from your career … We have to be very empathetic.”

That desire for empathy in conversation helped inspire the name “Beyond Driving with Dignity.” Seniors reach a point beyond driving, but there needs to be dignity, pride and independence associated with the process, Gurwell said.

“No one should be under house arrest just because they made the right and difficult decision to give up driving,” he added.

Homecare’s Role

Often, when professional caregivers get involved, seniors are at the point where they need to retire from driving. Personal care aides often help with errands and doctors’ visits. But if the client is fiercely independent and doesn’t want to give up driving, Beyond Driving with Dignity offers training to help caregivers have that conversation with the client and their family.

“We talk about the importance of basing those conversations on facts and not opinion, speculation or emotion,” Gurwell said. “Just because someone is 83, that’s not sufficient reason. Is there truly a problem with their driving or is this just your opinion and fear?”

While Senior Care Authority is not partnering with any home health agencies at the moment, the company offers community classes, often free of charge, and caregivers or agency owners are welcome to attend. Caregivers can also reach out to their local Senior Care Authority office to have a certified professional conduct an assessment in the client’s home.

Kristin Easterling is managing editor for HomeCare media.