WESTBROOK – On Wednesday night, a 77-year-old driver entered Interstate 295 in Freeport and drove north in the southbound lanes.

Tragically, he lost his life and seriously injured another driver going south on 295.

Judgment errors like this one happen more often with older drivers. Twenty percent of seniors 65 and older have disabilities that impair their ability to drive safely. On average, men outlive their ability to drive safely by six years, women by 10 years.

ITNPortland, a nonprofit, was founded more than 16 years ago to provide seniors a safe, convenient and dignified transportation alternative to driving a car.

For seniors in Greater Portland, it is difficult and inconvenient to get around without a car.

Most people want to continue driving for as long as they can do so safely. However, for many people, a time will come when they must limit or stop driving, either temporarily or permanently.

Health, not age, should determine when to limit or stop driving. Here are the 10 signs, published by AARP, that indicate it is time to limit or stop driving:

1. Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls.”

2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.

3. Getting lost, especially in familiar locations.

4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings.

5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving their foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals.

6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps.

7. Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain.

8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving.

9. Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes.

10. Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from law enforcement officers.

If you notice one or more of these cautionary signs in yourself, or in a loved one who is driving, you might want to register yourself or that person for a driver-improvement course, such as the classroom or online courses offered by AARP Driver Safety at www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/driver_safety.

AAA also provides a course and a skills assessment test at www.seniordriving.aaa.com.

ITNPortland offers rides to seniors and the visually impaired in Greater Portland for any purpose, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We use private cars and charge affordable fees. We rely on donated cars, volunteer drivers, donations and grants to keep our rides affordable, less than the cost of a taxi.

We offer rides for any purpose: beauty salon, grocery shopping, dentist, etc. Except for a small sign on the car window, this ride resembles one provided by a family member or friend.

If the rider needs assistance, the ITNPortland driver will meet the rider at the front door and help him or her to and from the car.

ITNPortland seeks to keep seniors safe as well as making our roads safer for all users. Our ride allows seniors to retain their independence, quality of life and their family home without having to drive themselves.

Giving up the car is frequently a very tough decision.

Ideally, the senior should become a rider with ITNPortland when he or she is still driving on a limited basis.

We have found that once the senior driver has had several months of rides with ITNPortland, the senior finds that giving up the car is a less difficult decision.

Our service is a convenience to family members who would have been responsible for providing some or many of these rides for their parents, grandparents or other relatives. We provide peace of mind for family members who are worried about the safety of that loved one who is still driving, as well as the safety of those who are sharing the roads with him or her.

For more information, see our website – www.ITNPortland.org – or call 854-0505.

– Special to The Press Herald