NHTSA - People Saving People
Cues for law Enforcement

Older Drivers

America is aging. By 2020, America will have 50 million citizens 65-years-of-age and older. By 2020, eight states will double their 65-years-of-age and older population and nineteen states will have one million or more older citizens. California and Florida will rank first and second in the older citizen population by 2025. These citizens are mobility minded; they are electing to drive longer. They are self-assessment oriented in questions pertaining to safely operating their motor vehicles. However, some older drivers are not able to correctly access their capabilities; they will require assistance to continue operating motor vehicles safely. Every person, not just older citizens, faces a progressive, natural history of functional decline. Self-evaluation and self-assessment of driving ability are essential elements in the decision to restrict or eliminate certain styles of driving. Older drivers may avoid limited access roadways, scale back or eliminate nighttime driving, and rarely operate a motor vehicle in inclement weather. They want to drive safely. They are not opposed to fair and unbiased evaluations. However, the evaluations should be based on performance, not age. Older drivers are seeking to keep autonomy and mobility. Many older drivers, who have virtually been abandoned by their immediate family and cannot be reached by sparse or at times non-existent governmental social services, view their driving privileges and their motor vehicle as the last vestige of independence. This independence is difficult to relinquish.

Law enforcement can perform an integral part in assessing older driver capability. The law enforcement community must work with established civilian and government agencies to develop alternatives and solutions to the mobility needs of older persons. The law enforcement community can collaborate with other agencies, providing materials, training, information programs and self assessment techniques for the older driver. Law enforcement can be positive in their approach. Most older drivers are not problem drivers; they are merely people who need basic transportation. Law enforcement agencies can take the lead and initiate actions which promote remedies. They can conduct educational town meetings at retirement communities, create older driver assistance groups, and provide a sincere commitment to the community in addressing the concerns of the older driver.

The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide law enforcement officers cues for determining the safe operational needs of older drivers.

Barriers To Safe Mobility
Older drivers face a multitude of medical and non-medical barriers that may affect their safe operation of a motor vehicle. Some of the medical barriers that confront older drivers and impede their ability to operate a motor vehicle include:

* Alzheimer's Disease

* Other dementia such as multi-infarction

* Field of vision loss, low vision, cataracts and the onset of glaucoma

* Arthritis, Parkinson's Disease, and stroke

* Slowed reaction time due to advanced age and/or poor physical condition

Non-medical barriers to safe driving operation also hinder older drivers. These include:

Interior design of a motor vehicle:
* seats that cannot be adjusted to accommodate a driver's shape, size, or
medical condition

* interior seating that does not provide for the comfort of the operator

* illogical dash design and displays

* seat belt/shoulder harness placement that is difficult to reach

Exterior design of motor vehicles:
* motor vehicle exterior doors that are heavy and cumbersome

* visibility problems due to pillar post placement

* motor vehicles that are large in overall size

Engineering barriers to safe operational mobility:

* small width on all inner, outer, and center highway divider lines

* worn/damaged/missing roadway markings and signs

* illegible and unreasonably sized fonts on traffic control devices

* work zone areas that are not distinctly marked with official traffic control devices to warn
of substandard width lanes, slower posted speed, pedestrian traffic, etc.

* lack of a vigorous maintenance schedule for traffic control devices

* traffic control devices that, due to placement off the roadway, are not effective

Safe Operation Detection Cues

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 the older drivers that 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.


Does the driver know the current:

* time of day?

* day of the week?

* month of the year?

* year?

Does the driver recall where they are coming from?

Does the driver know their destination?

Is the driver far from their residence?

Does the driver:

* have difficulty communicating?

* stumble over words?

* 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 exhibit poor personal hygiene?

(EXAMPLE: Urine/feces stains on clothing, on the person, in the motor vehicle.)

*Does the driver launch into accusations of perceived victimization by criminals?

* Does the driver appear to be suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer's

* 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 finding and removing driver's license, motor vehicle
registration, insurance card from wallet/purse or producing other requested

* Do they take a long period of time to walk a short distance, stumble/fall,
shake excessively, or lack coordination when accomplishing simple tasks?

The aging process and associated health problems, such as inactivity, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol and use of legal and illegal chemical substances, can impact on the body in the advanced years. Changes in visual acuity, ability to focus on daily occurrences, reaction time, coordination under stress, and ability to effectively react to stress related situations are common factors in the aging process. The changes in driving habits that occur as aging progresses can be directly attributed to physical changes. For example, some older citizens stop driving at night because of vision problems or have friends accompany them to assist in navigating the roadways.

The cues listed were field analyzed by Florida State Troopers in Pinellas County, Florida during the month of April, 1998. The responses obtained from using the cues assisted these law enforcement officers in the assessment of the older citizen drivers they encountered during traffic crash investigations and traffic stops.

The listed cues can help law enforcement officers determine if an older driver can continue to operate a motor vehicle safely or needs more assistance to determine their driving ability. Law enforcement officers can assist the citizen in self-assessment.

Law enforcement assistance in the form of intervention can include:

* referral to a local assistance agency that can coach and council older
citizens on safe operational mobility

* the officer seeking information and assistance from family members of
the older driver

* recommending public transportation systems

* coaching on restriction of certain types of motor vehicle operation
(nighttime, inclement weather, interstate driving, etc.)

* offering the assistance of the law enforcement community in safe
operational mobility learning exercises

* a reminder that self-assessment is an important step in maintaining
safe operational mobility

Dt times, law enforcement officers will encounter an older driver that requires the immediate removal from the roadway. Law enforcement officers should be familiar with the agency's policies and procedures to guide their action in these situations.

The intervention does not have to be the beginning of administrative proceedings to punish the older driver. Punishment, in the perspective of the older driver, is viewed as the outcome of law enforcement intervention. The elimination of driving privileges, when old age is the only factor, is punishment. There are many programs offered by governmental and non-governmental agencies to assist older drivers. Guidance can be given by law enforcement officers as concerned representatives of the law enforcement community and each officer's agency. The law enforcement community can be effective in intervention at a level that is trusted by older citizens. Assistance can be provided through partnerships in the community and with local organizations that identify with the older driver segment of the community. For example, the state Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Automobile Association, the local city and county Council on Aging, and other agencies at the local level of government can all play a part.

Law enforcement performs an important role in the assessment of older driver capability. They can work with established civilian and government agencies to develop alternatives and solutions to accommodate the mobility needs of the older citizens who are still operating motor vehicles. Law enforcement officers can take a positive approach and lead the way. In conjunction with the above organizations, they can be part of the solution and make a difference within their community. Law enforcement officers can facilitate an exchange of information, give a voice to the older citizen and educate the general public. It makes sense.


American Medical Association http://www.ama-assn.org

American Traffic Safety Services Association http://www.atssa.com

United States National Institute on Aging http://www.nih.gov

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

United States National Institutes of Health http://www.nih.gov

United States Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov
National Center of Health Statistics

United States National Academy of Sciences http://www.nas

United States Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Alzheimer's Association, The Police Training Kit, 1997

American Association of Retired Persons, Older Driver Skill Assessment and Resource Guide, Creating Mobility Choices, 1992

United States Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, We The American...Elderly, WE-9, 1993.