November 1, 2013 @ 9:48 AM

Steering Dad From The Car

Worried that your parents aren't safe behind the wheel but would be trapped at home if they quit driving? You are in good company.

One in two adult children are concerned about their older parents' driving abilities, according to a survey of 1,007 people ages 40 to 65 conducted for Liberty Mutual Insurance and released earlier this month. Those are valid fears, with 5,401 people age 65 and older killed in vehicle crashes in 2011 and another 185,000 suffering injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But most of the adult children surveyed were afraid to talk to their parents about giving up driving, with 31% anticipating that their parents would say it is too hard to find other ways to get around.

It is almost impossible to overstate the important role that transportation plays in allowing older adults with declining physical health to stay at home. Help getting around routinely turns up in surveys by providers of support services as one of the most crucial needs to be filled for older adults who are trying to continue to live independently.

"You can't age in place without transportation, and it's not acceptable for people to be driving when they shouldn't," says Katherine Freund, who started what is now ITNAmerica, a national nonprofit transportation service for older adults, 25 years ago after an 84-year-old driver hit her 3-year-old son and nearly killed him.

"All you have to do to solve this problem is provide a service that people are willing to pay for," she says.

Yet in most parts of the U.S., families have no idea what the options are when an elderly relative no longer feels comfortable at the wheel. Here are some alternatives and resources for getting around:

Call a clearinghouse.Ms. Freund's group recently set up a national toll-free call center called Rides in Sight (855-607-4337) that is designed to be a matchmaker between families seeking transportation and options available in their communities.

Families who call are asked who needs the transportation, if they have special needs, whether cost is a concern and if they are willing to share rides, Ms. Freund says. If the group hasn't researched transportation in a specific community yet, it will then do so, follow up within a day and add the information to its database. A sister website ( is expected to have the same information by March 31, she says.

More general elder-care information, including transportation designed for people who are 60 and older, is available through government-backed area agencies on aging, which can be found at the federal government's Eldercare Locator website (

For older adults who may need financial assistance, another online service,, can help pinpoint whether they might qualify for transportation aid.

Trade in your car.ITNAmerica, based in Westbrook, Maine, has provided more than 500,000 rides to some 5,000 members in cities dotting the country. (There's a directory of the places it reaches at

It offers a novel way to pay for dozens of rides, typically about $10 apiece: by trading in your car for credits. Younger retirees also can bank future rides for themselves or family members by working as volunteer drivers.

The service is available around the clock, seven days a week, and passengers who are frail also can get help getting in and out of vehicles and to their appointments.

Seek help in unusual places.Many nonmedical home-care agencies that bill themselves as providing companionship and running errands or doing chores also provide transportation.

Increasingly, families hire such services specifically to help loved ones get to appointments or go shopping, and pay aides by the hour, says Jody Gastfriend, vice president of senior-care services at, an online provider based in Waltham, Mass., that matches families with caregivers and claims eight million members in 16 countries.

Some home-care agencies require clients to sign up for a caregiving-related task to get access to transportation, she adds.

Avoid one big confrontation.The key to using any of these services, of course, is getting the would-be passenger to assent.

Rather than building up to a single discussion with your parents, Ms. Freund recommends a gradual, evolving conversation about driving, possibly over a few months.

"The first time you ask what's going to happen if you can't drive, you'll get, 'No, no, no. We're fine,' " she says. But the next time, "you might ask, 'What if you have a stroke? Is there a taxi you'd want to use? Do you want us to hire a private driver?' You can do it in a supportive, gradual way so you're helping them understand what they're moving to, rather than what they're giving up."

Explore new technologies.Taxi services are offering online ordering and payment, and services such as Uber, which connects riders to drivers online, are rapidly expanding to more cities.

You may also find a support network through the Village to Village Network website (, which lists grass-roots organizations of older adults who share the goal of staying independent—and who often develop their own transportation services.

Consider therapy.If it's a close call as to whether an older loved one should continue driving, you could hire a "driving therapist."

Driver-rehabilitation therapists, sometimes housed in hospital occupational-therapy practices, can help people who have lost mobility with aids such as left-foot accelerators. And they can set limits on driving times and routes as well. To find one, go to the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists website (

Note:  This article by Kelly Greene was published by the Wall Street Journal on 10/26/13