Part of an infographic on the site of the Epilepsy Foundation

The Epilepsy Foundation urges people who have had seizures to refrain from driving.

Colorado is one of 13 states that do not have a medical advisory board to weigh in on cases in which a person’s ability to drive is challenged because of health reasons, as Kevin Simpson reports for The Denver Post. Simpson brings this up in his recent article about the difficulty of regulating drivers who have medical conditions that can cause car accidents.

In the article, Simpson gives the example of a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran, Leon Hoschouer, who was struck on May 21 (as CBS4 reports) while heading east in his electric wheelchair on the sidewalk alongside East Alameda Avenue, Aurora, by a driver who lost control of her Chrysler and went off the road while having a seizure. After being brought to the hospital, Hoschouer died of his injuries, CBS4 reports. At the time he was hit, Hoschouer had been on his way to buy cigars, using his automated wheelchair to travel to the store, as his own license had been revoked three years before at his family’s urging, because he too had a seizure disorder, Simpson writes.

The matter of what to do about drivers whose medical conditions can cause accidents usually surfaces after a tragedy occurs, Simpson writes, noting that here in Colorado it is the responsibility of the individual:

Applicants for a license are asked a single question: During the last two years, have you had any physical, mental or emotional conditions that would interfere with your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely including heart problems, diabetes, paralysis, epilepsy, seizures, lapses of consciousness or dizziness?

A ‘yes’ response gets them a form that must be signed by their doctor stating they are medically cleared to drive. A seizure-related accident triggers no automatic suspension, but a re-exam is required in the case of fatal accidents. Failing the re-exam results in revocation or denial of a license.

Simpson reports that in fiscal 2015, Colorado canceled or denied 1,204 driver’s licenses, slightly fewer than in fiscal 2014. The state “has resisted efforts embraced by a handful of states to impose mandatory reporting requirements for physicians,” he writes, noting that how to address the problem of medically impaired drivers is “a squishy statistical area in Colorado,” as well as nationally.

He quotes Sgt. Dave Hall, a legislative liaison for the Colorado State Patrol, as saying that drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs are a far greater threat to safety than people with medical conditions. Hall told Simpson that a high-profile seizure case surfaces once every four or five years.

A Colorado Department of Transportation database shows that in the last 10 years, officers responding to traffic accidents attributed 2,088 incidents involving injuries, including 17 fatalities, to medical conditions or illnesses, Simpson writes. Although Simpson writes about a 2004 study finding that nationally fatal accidents caused by seizures comprised only 0.2% of all accidents, study co-author Dr. Allan Krumholz said the researchers were hampered by imprecise data. Of the problem of collecting accurate data, he said, “It’s a policy issue, it’s a medical issue, it’s a social issue,” as Simpson reports.

Families of victims of accidents caused by medical problems are frustrated that some of those drivers face no legal consequences, Simpson writes. The driver who suffered a seizure and stuck Hoschouer was not charged, as police did not believe that drugs, alcohol, or speeding played a part in the accident, CBS4 writes.

Physicians have not been eager to change the law regarding driver’s licenses, because they would feel burdened by having to be “medical watchdogs,” Simpson writes. In addition, they are concerned that a change in the law could result in patients hiding some of their symptoms for fear of losing their licenses, Simpson writes.

Krumholz told Simpson that the topic needs to be reexamined and discussed in those states with no clear policy. “You can’t eliminate all the risk, but you want to make those risks acceptable,” he said. There is not even a standard right now for what constitutes an acceptable risk, Krumholz said.

Embed this infographic:
Embed this image: