National Older Driver Research and Training Center

Examining issues surrounding older driver assessment, remediation, rehabilitation, and the use of alternatives to the car.

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Law Enforcement and the Older Driver: A Lack of Policies, Procedures, and Resources

Presenter: McCarthy, Dennis

Abstract

An elderly driver, stopped for unsafe driving, appears confused. There is variability in how Florida law enforcement officers handle such situations. While several counties have social service organizations who have agreed to assist in such situations, other counties have no policies or procedures in place. Florida Senior Safety Resource Centers surveyed law enforcement officials in all 67 Florida counties to determine current practices, policies/procedures, and availability of social resources to assist elders facing these circumstances.

Law enforcement officers may be unsure of the best method to deal with an elderly driver, stopped for unsafe driving behaviors, who demonstrates impaired cognitive abilities. Agencies often lack policies and/or procedures to guide officers in their decision-making processes and officers may lack the training needed to increase their awareness of age-related issues and how they may affect safe driving ability. In addition, many communities have not identified potential resources for assisting elder drivers stopped by law enforcement officers. Many agencies do not utilize the state's medical reporting form to identify these potentially at-risk drivers to licensing officials.

The Florida Department of Transportation's Florida Senior Safety Resource Centers (FSSRC) surveyed law informant officials in all 67 counties in Florida to determine current practices employed by officers in cases where older drivers were stopped, due to their driving behaviors, and were found to be experiencing cognitive difficulties. In addition, surveys were conducted to determine if existing social supports, or "first responders", existed to assist law enforcement in these circumstances. Additionally, the FSSRCs sought to identify potential social supports and agencies that might be willing to fulfill this role.

The results of these efforts demonstrated a wide range of variability among counties and among agencies with regard to policies, procedures, and resources available to law enforcement officials to assist in cases where elder drivers were stopped and demonstrated cognitive difficulties. Many areas have no policies whatsoever and have to rely on the Florida Mental Health Act (Baker Act), which allows involuntary admission for evaluation for mental illness without the elder's consent. More populated areas were more likely to have existing policies and procedures as well as supports for the elderly while rural counties tended to address these situations on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, the elder driver was driven home and no follow-up (e.g., driving evaluation, medical evaluation) ensued. Many agencies acknowledged the need for training in order to better deal with elder driver issues. Additionally, although many counties had support services available, many of these services were unknown to law enforcement officials. Finally, some in law enforcement are not knowledgeable, or do not utilize, the state's system for reporting drivers suspected of having condition that may impact safe driving.

Standardized policies and procedures for law enforcement would enable more appropriate treatment for older drivers felt to have cognitive difficulties. Education and sensitization of law enforcement to elder driver issues would allow a better understanding of elders' needs. Increased efforts to identify and establish "first-responders" would ensure that elder drivers with cognitive impairment received the proper care.

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