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Could Doctors Help Prevent Car Accidents Involving Elderly Drivers?

Doctors could play a key role in preventing San Diego car accidents involving elderly drivers, according to a new study. It found that warning patients that they may no longer be safe on the road could deter car crashes.

The annual rate of car accidents among patients who were warning by their doctors decreased about 45% in the following year as compared with the 3 years before, according to researchers led by Donald Redelmeier, MD, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. The “data suggest that practicing physicians may be able to help prevent serious trauma from road crashes,” the researchers concluded.

In the three years before they were deemed unfit by their doctors, patients who subsequently received a warning were involved in 1,430 car crashes that required emergency care. The accident rate of 4.76 crashes per 1,000 people is more than twice the rate in the general population.

In the year following medical intervention, the accident rate was significantly lower. Patients were the drivers in 273 crashes that required an emergency department visit, which amounted to an annual rate of 2.73 accidents per 1,000 persons.

As highlighted by Med Page Today, the study was possible because Ontario doctors are required by law to report a driver who is unfit to operate a motor vehicle by reason of a condition such as alcoholism, dementia, sleep disorders, or depression without psychosis.

The results of the study could translate here in California, where doctors also have a duty to report unfit drivers. Physicians are required by law (Heath & Safety Code Section 103900) to report disorders characterized by lapses of consciousness, as well as Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Additionally, they have the discretion to report any other condition if they believe it would affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.