03/27/2017

In three short years, America will have 50 million citizens 65 years of age and older. Older adults today are mobility minded and electing to drive longer. Most self-assess their driving skills, however, some older drivers are not able to correctly assess their capabilities, so they may require assistance to determine if they can continue operating motor vehicles safely.

Everyone faces a natural progression of functional decline as they age. Self-evaluation and self-assessment of your driving ability are essential elements in the decision to restrict or eliminate certain styles of driving destinations (e.g., urban downtowns), or routes (e.g., high speed roadways). Older drivers may avoid high speed roadways, scale back or eliminate nighttime driving, and/or rarely operate a motor vehicle in inclement weather. They want to drive safely. They may even embrace a fair evaluation of their skills. However, many are concerned that evaluations are based on age, not performance. More than ever, older drivers seek to keep their autonomy and mobility, especially since adults often live elsewhere which leaves their older adult family member or friend isolated if there are no transportation options or the older adult parent cannot be reached by sparse or at times non-existent governmental social services. Therefore, older adults can view driving privileges and their motor vehicle necessary for independence and quality of life. This independence is difficult to relinquish.

The traditional role of law enforcement has been that of traffic enforcement and crash investigator. Officers are called upon daily to issue citations for traffic violations. However, while the primary function of law enforcement officers will remain, a future role will be that of a facilitator as the growing number of older drivers remain on the road. Officers will need to evaluate the older drivers they encounter to determine if they present a risk to themselves or other drivers. This is why it is important that law enforcement officers are provided with the information needed to properly assess medical and physiological issues impacting the performance of older drivers. Officers should recognize driving behavior that indicates the need for re-examination of the driver, and they should become familiar with cues that are indicative of “at-risk” drivers.

Role of Law Enforcement:

When a traffic encounter occurs, law enforcement officers should use “cues” when encountering an older adult that displays unexpected behaviors. If law enforcement officers are appropriately educated and trained, they can recognize the need to consider a medical condition that may compromise the continued safe driving of the older driver. Law enforcement officers would usually speak with the driver, as well as gather visual cues to gather information in order to make a determination if the person will require further evaluation of their ability to safely drive.

Below are some questions an officer may ask or observations he may view to determine if an older driver can continue to operate a motor vehicle safely or if he/she needs more assistance to determine their driving ability:

  • Does the driver know the current time of day, week, month, or year?
  • Can the driver recall where they were coming from?
  • Does the driver know their destination?
  • Does the driver have difficulty communicating?
  • Does the driver exhibit poor personal hygiene?
  • Does the driver appear to be suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer's Disease?
  • Is the driver wearing an identification bracelet or necklace indicating dementia that would affect safe driving mobility?
  • Does the driver have large amounts of prescription medicines, prescribed by different doctors, visible in the motor vehicle?

Law enforcement can potentially play a critical role in identifying those older drivers on the road who demonstrate a current problem with roadway safety. They often work with and establish civilian and government agency relationships to help identify methods to identify those at risk in order to support all drivers on the road. By establishing an exchange of information and making a difference within their community, law enforcement support older drivers who are capable to continue to drive and educates the general public to be part of the solution to safe roadways.

See our Chorus website, to view a video on law enforcement and older drivers with physical or cognitive impairments, please click here.

Resources:

United States Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census. www.census.gov

United States National Institutes of Health. www.nih.gov

American Traffic Safety Services Association. www.atssa.com

United States Department of Commerce, Economic and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census. www.esa.doc.gov

Educating Law Enforcement Officers on Older Drivers Issues training, available through National Law Enforcement Academy Resource Network www.NLEARN.org