Law enforcement's role
Law enforcement officers interact with the driving public on a daily basis and can serve as an important tool in promoting older road user safety and mobility. If a law enforcement officer stops an older driver the officer can help that individual steer clear of harm’s way on the road by:
- Providing a referral to a local assistance agency that coaches and counsels older citizens on safe vehicle operation, or makes recommendations for other mobility options.
- Encouraging self-assessment.
- Offering driver refresher courses.
- Citing drivers who violate traffic laws.
- Making referrals to the licensing agency.
Cues for law enforcement
The NHTSA publication, A Compendium of Law Enforcement Programs, provides some useful information for law enforcement officers when dealing with older drivers. The publication notes, "Law enforcement officers must analyze a steady flow of cues when conducting any traffic encounter. Older drivers, those 65 years-of-age and older, present a mix of operational mobility cues law enforcement officers should recognize. Understanding these cues will assist the law enforcement officer in assessing the continued safe operational needs of older drivers they may encounter. Older operators can have an abundance of medical and non-medical barriers to safely operating a motor vehicle. A dialog with the person, as well as visual cues, will assist in determining if the person will require further evaluation of driving mobility."
The following are some useful clues.
- Does the driver know the current time of day, day of the week, month of the year, and year?
- Does the driver recall where they are coming from or know their destination?
- Is the driver far from their residence?
- Does the driver have difficulty communicating; stumble over words; or ramble in short, unattached, meaningless sentences or explanations of their driving ability?
- Is the driver’s clothing disheveled, non-matching, incomplete, or too much for existing weather conditions?
- Does the driver launch into accusations of perceived victimization by criminals?
- Does the driver appear to be suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease or 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?
- If the driver is out of the motor vehicle or exits the motor vehicle, do they have difficulty producing their driver’s license, motor vehicle registration, insurance card or other requested documents from wallet or purse?
- Do they take a long period of time to walk a short distance, stumble or fall, shake excessively, or lack coordination when accomplishing simple tasks?
Other ways law enforcement officers can help is through interventions with the family, partner or friends.
- Acting as a trusted authority in evaluating driving safety.
- Supporting legal efforts to appropriately restrict or remove driving privileges.
- Seeking information and assistance on the health and mobility situation of the older driver from loved ones.
Law enforcement officers can also provide assistance to community agencies by agreeing to participate in safety programs aimed at older adults.
Resources and training for law enforcement
Several resources are available to educate and train law enforcement on how to assist older drivers.
- NHTSA has developed a training course for law enforcement officers that includes information on the aging process, how to conduct a traffic stop with an older driver, making referrals, and conducting an older driver community relations program. This training package can be requested through your regional NHTSA office. A listing can be found by clicking here or visit NHTSA's Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
- Training on enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws can be found by clicking here or visit http://www.walkinginfo.org.
- The Compendium of Law Enforcement Older Driver Programs lists training for officers, training for older drivers and community relations programs that promote safety of older drivers. To view this report, click here or visit NHTSA's Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov.