Blind World Magazine

Leave The Driving To Us.

January 18, 2006.
CBS Evening News.

(CBS) Seventy-five-year-old Mary Austin leaves at 5:45 am sharp to exercise three days a week. Vision problems forced her to quit driving, but she refuses to quit living.

Why? Because Austin has a fleet of cars and drivers at her service. They are called the Independent Transportation Network (ITN) and they give Austin just that; her independence.

Older drivers accounted for 12 percent of traffic fatalities in 2004, CBS News correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports. ITN is a 24/7 car service for seniors who cannot, or should not, be on the road.

ITN is the brainchild of a very driven, very determined Katherine Freund, who has operated the Portland, Maine-based nonprofit for 10 years.

"The need is like the Grand Canyon. It's huge," Freund says of transportation for the elderly.

Last year, ITN provided more than 15,000 rides with an average charge of about $8.

"It doesn't cost any tax money. It's common sense," Freund explains.

ITN is funded by donations, underwritten by private businesses and staffed by a mix of volunteers and paid employees. Seniors can pay as they go, or, as Freund points out, "Your grandmother could trade her car, and then we would set up an account for her and she could debit that account to pay for her rides.

"It's like a reverse mortgage on a house only it's reverse on your car," Freund says.

You get the value of your car, in rides.

Freund's motivation to get ITN on the road comes from one single moment 18 years ago.

Her son Ryan, then age 3, was hit by an 84-year-old driver. "You hold your child in your arms in the middle of the road and you feel your life change forever," Freund recalls of the moment, adding that the driver said, "he said he thought he hit a dog."

Ever since, her goal has been to fix this problem. This year, ITN is hitting the road in California, South Carolina, Florida and New Jersey.

Freund still drives the vans on weekends and says her program is five years from going nationwide. As for her son Ryan, he's fully recovered and now in college. "He's a happy, whole guy now," Freund says jubilantly.

Pondering her accomplishments, Freund says, "I am determined. Wouldn't you be?"

©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc.

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