Police training focuses on older drivers

WELLSBORO – Older drivers and driving under the influence of intoxicants case law were the focus of a law enforcement training held in the borough’s police department on Wednesday.

The first part of the training was conducted by George C. Geisler Jr., a drug recognition expert and Eastern Pennsylvania law enforcement director for Team DUI, focused on updates in DUI case law.

The second half of the training focuses on the growing number of older drivers and was conducted by Bob Schaeffer, traffic safety coordinator with the North Central Highway Safety Network of the Southern Tier, headquartered in Pottsville.

Schaeffer presented the workshop to about a dozen police officers and state troopers from Tioga, Potter and Bradford counties.

In the afternoon workshop, officers learned how to recognize when an older driver may be suffering from dementia, Alzheimers and other medical conditions, or under the influence of medication.

According to Schaeffer, those 65 and older are 16 percent more likely to cause a car crash, and the reasons can run the gamut from slower response time and mental confusion to lack of range of motion due to arthritis or some other physical condition.

Older people are more likely to mistake the gas pedal for the brake and drive the wrong way on one- way roads, he added.

Compared to younger drivers, older drivers have more multi-vehicle crashes than single vehicle crashes, according to statistics, Schaeffer said.

“Intersection crashes are more likely with older drivers due to field of vision, and the fact that they often don’t recognize when a vehicle is coming at them, and the problem gets worse the smaller the vehicle, such as motorcycles,” he added.

Between 2009 and 2013, crashes involving older drivers in Lycoming, Bradford and Tioga counties peaked and then began to level off.

Older drivers are the fastest growing segment of the population, with 14 million drivers over 65 in 2000 and 18 million in 2013.

“These are the baby boomers who are turning 65 by the thousands every day,” he said.

By 2030, he said, the 65 and older segment of the population will grow “and you will be dealing more with older drivers,” Schaeffer said.

Fatal accidents among older drivers in the three counties showed the same trend.

Older drivers may not have good night vision, and arthritis may limit their range of motion.

“Medications are one of the biggest dangers, as prescription drugs can affect driving ability,” Schaefer said.

Schaeffer said a new program, called the Yellow Dot program is available to help police and first responders identify and help an older driver who may be involved in a crash or suffering some medical emergency by the presence of a yellow dot sticker on the back of the car, which also indicates that medical information is in the glove compartment.

“All five senses decline with age,” Schaeffer said, and though it may seem so at times, all older persons are not perpetually angry or irritated.

“Personality is not a characteristic of age. Be aware though that age related medical conditions can affect personality,” Schaeffer added.

Medical conditions such as diabetes can create a loss of sensation in hands and feet, leading to accidents.

Schaeffer said law enforcement should serve as a source for helpful aging driver information and can identify and refer at-risk drivers to licensing agencies.

“It is important for law enforcement to document all traffic stops with older drivers,” Schaeffer said, creating a “paper trail” to notify other departments in neighboring towns to repeat incidents.

There are a number of helpful devices older drivers can install in their cars, including proper outside mirror settings, which can help them see anyone who may be in their vehicle’s “blind spots,” bigger windshield-mounted rear view mirrors, a properly adjusted head rest, a rotating seat cushion and a grab bar to help them in and out of the vehicle.

There also needs to be less bias among law enforcement favoring older drivers, he said.

“The philosophy of law enforcement is to serve and protect everyone.”

Some cues police can check for when stopping an older driver include if they have trouble concentrating, remembering or learning things, if there are little dings on the car, where they may have repeatedly hit something, and trouble hearing or asking to have information repeated over and over again.

“Also deal with the person’s family to have them do things to avoid problems down the road,” he said.