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Restricting drivers with epilepsy "unnecessary" claims report

6 June, 2002

Legal requirements for doctors to notify US driving license authorities when a patient is diagnosed with epilepsy are both unnecessary and counterproductive, according to a report in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"While it may seem beneficial to regulate the driving privileges of a person with epilepsy, it deters them from seeking medical care to better control their seizures, therefore increasing the risk of traffic accidents" said Dr Wally Lee, an emergency physician with the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City. "We found that only one of every four people with epilepsy went to see their doctor when they were having seizures because they feared being reported. These reporting statutes are discriminatory and destructive to patient-physician confidentiality and should be repealed."

The report finds that crashes among drivers with epilepsy are markedly less than crashes in patients with other medical conditions not under any regulatory requirement, according to the article. For example, drivers younger than 25 years of age and those with sleep apnea, dementia (such as Alzheimer’s), visual impairment, cardiac arrhythmias, Parkinson’s disease, and migraine headaches all have higher relative risks of a motor vehicle crash than a person with epilepsy. In fact, people who do shift work and use cellular (mobile) telephones have much higher relative risks of a motor vehicle crash and fatal crash than an person with epilepsy.

Despite the low risk, six US states (California, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) require mandatory reporting of patients with seizures to regulatory authorities; three of these states specifically mention epilepsy in their statute. The remaining states typically require a patient to self-report or face civil liability, criminal liability, or both.