Restricting epileptic drivers unnecessary, counterproductive

May 30, 2002

An article reviewing motor vehicle crashes among epileptic drivers finds statutes requiring physicians to report epileptic patients to driver-licensing authorities both unnecessary and counterproductive. (Reporting Epileptic Drivers to Licensing Authorities Is Unnecessary and Counterproductive)

Motor vehicle crashes among epileptic drivers 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 telephones have much higher relative risks of a motor vehicle crash and fatal crash than an epileptic person.

"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 Wally Lee, MD, 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 These reporting statutes are discriminatory and destructive to patient-physician confidentiality and should be repealed.

Despite the low risk, six 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.
Annals of Emergency Medicine is the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians, a national medical organization with nearly 23,000 members. ACEP is committed to improving the quality of emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and a Government Services Chapter representing emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.

American College of Emergency Physicians

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