Doctors Can Help Prevent Medically Unfit Florida Residents from Driving

Sep 28, 2012 Posted by in Motor Vehicle Accidents and Safety

Our South Florida car accident attorneys have previously reported on the challenges senior drivers face on Florida highways. Aging drivers often have limited vision, strength, coordination and flexibility, which can hinder their ability to safely control a car. However, when family members determine an older relative is no longer capable of driving safely, taking the keys away is difficult and emotional.

Employees of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles are aware of the challenges Florida’s older driver population and their families face. Last year they participated in a panel discussion hosted by Ford Motor Co. to address some of these issues. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Annual Performance Report FY 10-11, panel members discussed the medical review process of older drivers and how the information is kept confidential when a doctor finds that a patient is medically unfit to drive. The failure to report this information potentially places the driver and others in danger.

Canadian Study Suggests Doctors Should Intervene

In a study conducted by Canadian researchers, when doctors intervened and warned a patient and driving authorities that a patient was medically unfit to drive, there was a drop in serious crash injuries among the drivers. In Canada, doctors are required to report medically unfit drivers, and in 2006 doctors were paid a small fee for complying.

The researchers tracked over 100,000 patients who had been told by their doctors they were medically unfit. The majority of the drivers were over age 60. In the eight months after the warning, there was a 45 percent drop in serious crashes among the group.

American Medical Association Can Help

The American Medical Association is concerned about their inability to get unsafe drivers off the road. Although an Associated Press report indicates nearly 600,000 older drivers give up their licenses each year, experts believe many more should do the same. If doctors and family members of elderly drivers work together, the AMA believes the number of crashes involving older patients can be reduced.

The AMA recommends that doctors administer several basic tests to older patients who are still driving. The tests are designed to assess the patients’ reaction times, memory and spatial processing, flexibility and strength. Alerting the patient to the risks he could pose when driving can help initiate a conversation between the patient and his family.

An article in the Orlando Sentinel reports that Dr. Gary Kennedy, geriatric psychiatry chief at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, suggests family members ask themselves whether grandchildren are allowed to ride with an elderly relative. ”If the answer to that is no, that’s telling me the people who know the patient best have made a decision that they’re not safe,” he said.

Florida’s Aging Population Can Take Precautions to Continue to Drive Safely

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida has the highest proportion of people age 65 and over, at 17 percent. Within Florida, the percentage of older adults varies widely by county. Sumter Country has the highest proportion of adults over 65, at 43 percent. In several other Florida counties, people over 65 make up more than 30 percent of the population. This number climbs even higher during the winter months when snowbirds head to the state.

However, age does not automatically mean a person can no longer drive. Older drivers can continue to drive safely with proper care. Help Guide, a nonprofit that offers self-hope options for life’s challenges, suggests regular check-ups can keep seniors in driving shape.

Other steps suggested include:

  • Getting your eyes checked every year. Make sure that corrective lenses are current. Keep the windshield, mirrors and headlights clean, and turn brightness up on the instrument panel on your dashboard.
  • Having your hearing checked annually. If hearing aids are prescribed, make sure they are worn while driving. Be careful when opening car windows, though, as drafts can sometimes impair a hearing aid’s effectiveness.
  • Talking with a doctor about the effects that ailments or medications may have on your driving ability. If you have glaucoma, for example, then you may find tinted eyeglass lenses to be effective in reducing glare.
  • Sleeping well. In order to drive well, it is essential to get enough sleep. If there are problems, try to improve nighttime sleep conditions and talk with your doctor about the effect of any sleep medications on driving.

Our Treasure Coast personal injury attorneys encourage family members to be involved in medical care of their older loved ones and to work with their doctors to make the best decisions regarding the patient’s safety. We also ask all drivers to be alert when on the roads and to offer their support and maintain patience around older drivers.

About Philip DeBerard, Injury Attorney

The law firm of Philip DeBerard, Injury Attorney, has provided professional and compassionate legal assistance to personal injury and accident victims in South Florida and the Treasure Coast since 1975. The firm’s practice areas include car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, dog bite injuries, swimming pool accidents, slip and fall injuries, and wrongful death claims.

Our law firm represents victims of car accidents across South Florida, including Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Fort Pierce, Jupiter, Palm Beach and Vero Beach and throughout South Florida and the Treasure Coast. Call 1-800-299-8878 now to speak with a knowledgeable Florida car accident attorney or fill out our online contact form.

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