Should Doctors Report Concerns about Impaired Older Drivers to State Motor Vehicle Departments?


March 14, 2015

Because seniors often fear the loss of independence that accompanies the surrender of their driver's license, many seniors continue to drive even though declining physical and mental abilities can make doing so unsafe. Age can take a serious toll on driving skills and contribute to collisions that cause life-altering injuries and fatalities. Motorists that are age 80 and older have a higher risk of involvement in a multi-car accident than any other age group with the exception of teen drivers according to the Federal Highway Administration. This fact is particularly concerning because the number of elderly motorists is expected to triple during the next two decades.

Given that advanced age can impact cognitive and physical driving skills, some people has suggested that doctor's should be required to report such impairment to state motor vehicle licensing agencies. A handful of states currently impose such a requirement or encourage doctors to report concerns regarding older drivers who might not be capable of driving safely. However, this requirement is only imposed by a few states. Further, most states do not even require drivers over the age of 75 to pass a road test or vision test. Tennessee does not even require a driver over the age of 65 to renew his or her license.

A Los Angeles jury was asked to decide whether Dr. Arthur Daigneault, a physician, should be responsible for a death caused by his ninety-year-old patient. The elderly driver, who suffered from dementia, drove his vehicle into the path of oncoming traffic causing the death of a passenger in his car according to a NBC News report. Although the jury decided not to impose liability on Dr. Daigneault, the case raises important issues about the duty owed by a physician who is aware age-related conditions make a patient an unsafe driver. The elderly driver who caused this crash suffered memory loss and had been taking an Alzheimer's drug for several years at the time of the crash.

While family members can play an important role in making the roads safer by taking steps to keep an elderly loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia off the road, it may be time for states to enact stricter reporting laws. Although a senior's independence and privacy need to be protected, these concerns do not outweigh the danger posed by mentally or physically impaired drivers. The situation is somewhat analogous to the infringement of the Fourth Amendment right not to be subject to unreasonable search and seizure which results from use of DUI checkpoints. Although the rights of the elderly need to be respected, motor vehicles are a deadly weapon in the hands of an unqualified driver.

If you are injured in a collision involving a negligent driver, call our car accident lawyers to learn about your legal rights and the steps that need to be taken to protect those rights.

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Sources:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/10/13781986-elderly-drivers-and-fatal-accidents-is-the-doctor-responsible?lite

Category: Auto Accidents

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.