Elderly driving: Tour calling attention to turning over keys

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WESTBROOK — Katherine Freund, an advocate who has called attention to the problem of seniors driving when it’s not safe, is about to hit the road.

On Tuesday, she’s launching a nationwide, 60-day cross-country trip to spotlight the need for seniors to hang up their keys when it’s time and have alternative transportation available.

Freund is president of Independent Transportation Network of America, a nonprofit organization that provides rides to seniors. She founded ITNAmerica 20 years ago, after her son was run over by an 84-year-old driver. Her son suffered a brain injury but recovered.

ITN is in 20 communities across the country, including the Portland area, but not in most parts of Maine. Transportation is lacking in many communities, Freund said, adding that needs to change.

As head of ITN, “I’ve been telling the story of what happened to me, how it changed my life,” she said. “But I am just one of millions of stories out there. I want to travel around the country and give a voice to others to tell their story. There needs to be a dialogue. People need to know they’re not alone.”

She will share stories about those who’ve been hurt by unsafe drivers, adult children trying to ensure their parents are no longer driving when it’s not safe and seniors who’ve given up driving and now lack transportation.

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“You should not have to live the last 10 years of your life begging for a ride, or drive when you shouldn’t,” Freund said.

She’ll meet volunteers in Boston, hear her 90-year-old mother in Connecticut talk about how she stopped driving and had to prod her husband to give up his keys.

“He didn’t feel like stopping,” she said. “When it came time to cook dinner, my mother stopped cooking” in protest. She told her husband, “’I don’t feel like it.’” He eventually stopped and the couple moved to an assisted living community.

Men sometimes are more stubborn about giving up driving, “but once they do, they become our strongest advocates,” she said.

Other stops include Maryland, North Carolina, Orlando, Los Angeles, Missouri, Iowa and Nashville, where she’ll meet with a group of older people to talk about transportation.

“They’re working on solutions,” she said. “They’re excited about it. They have a room at a public television station.”

Another stop will be a Navajo community in the West, where an eye doctor has requested a visit.

The doctor told her that Native Americans are prone to eye disease and eventual blindness. Patients with diminished sight should not drive, the doctor told her. The goal is to develop transportation alternatives.

In Kansas City, Mo., she’ll meet with Susan Cohen, a woman whose son died in a tragic crash. A student at Johns Hopkins University in 2011, Nathan Krasnopoler was riding a bicycle when an 83-year-old driver turned in front of him, knocked him from his bike and pinned him under the vehicle.

“It’s a painful and difficult story,” Freund said. “It’s important to talk about all aspects, to give voice to how this is changing people’s lives in significant ways.”

During the tour, the stories will be posted online, on the ITN website and YouTube. Freund plans to write a book on the subject.

Her organization hopes to attract more donations, more donated cars and more volunteers to provide rides to seniors.

For more information, call 1-855-60-RIDES (74337).

www.ITNAmerica.org http://www.RidesInSight.org/

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