Community Blog

Seniors and Driving-When is it time to take the keys?

By Sheryl Dreher, Care Coordinator with Home Helpers of Northwest Metro Denver

Many questions come to mind when a senior is involved in an automobile accident. How did this happen? Why was this senior driving when they shouldn’t have been? How could this have been prevented? Will they get behind the wheel again?

These questions led to an investigation to find potential solutions for preventing families from being affected by unsafe older drivers. A foolproof test was considered to screen for hazardous drivers and prevent them from operating cars, but even a perfectly developed driving assessment wouldn’t address an important underlying issue for seniors: They have a deep desire to remain mobile and independent.

Crashes involving older adults are just a symptom of a larger problem: The inability to drive safely is a function of age-related change. Older Americans want to remain independent and be able to go where they want, when they want. We can take the keys away, but the problem is that they don’t have access to alternative transportation that allows them to safely get from point A to point B. Older people need a ride. The challenge then becomes; how do we give them that ride?

In 1995, an initiative called the Independent Transportation Network (INT), which offered transportation alternative in Portland, Maine, for older adults who could no longer drive was created. In 2006, after years of testing, research and funding from philanthropic organizations, government agencies and AARP, ITN blossomed into ITNAmerica-a national non-profit network of community-based senior transportation programs.

ITNAmerica affiliates are currently operating in California, Nevada, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine. Through these affiliates, adults age 60 and over can purchase a membership for $50, which allows them to schedule local rides 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for any reason.

Affiliate rates differ by location, but there is base charge for pickup and a per-mile charge that varies depending on the time of day when the ride is needed. Rides can be shared or solo, taken on the fly or scheduled in advance. Drivers do not accept tip and no money is exchanged. All transactions are conducted through a dedicated online account where seniors (and their family members) can earn, gift and purchase ride credits.

There are other options for helping an aging loved one get around, each with its own pros and cons. Public transportation is an excellent, low-cost resource, but many smaller communities and rural areas do not have adequate systems to support residents who cannot drive.  Uber and Lyft also have revolutionized the on-demand transportation market, but these services are only available in certain areas and many seniors are not comfortable using smartphones or cannot afford to buy one.

Each community has its own blend of transportation programs and services for older adults and their caregivers, but they can be difficult to seek out. The easiest way to track down providers is to contact an elder’s local Area Agency on Aging (AAA).

Talking about driving issues is touchy for many families. For seniors, the ability to drive is synonymous with independence, and taking away the has a big impact on their real and perceived quality of life. The transition away from driving occurs over about a decade. It starts with not driving at night, in bad weather, on the interstate or in unfamiliar neighborhoods. It’s important to help older adults with transportation that will supplement their driving, while they can still drive. This makes not driving at all less intimidating when it finally happens.