Dangerous Drivers in Canada Not Being Reported: Why are Doctors Ignoring the Law?

by John McKiggan

Dangerous drivers suffering from alcohol abuse, cardiac disease and neurologic disorders are not being reported by their doctors; and doctors may be committing medical malpractice for failing to comply with provincial laws.

A recent report in the medical journal Open Medicine found that between 1996 and 2001 37% of drivers admitted to a trauma unit with injuries from car accidents had a reportable medical condition that made them unfit to drive.

Most of the patients (85%) had seen a doctor in the year before the crash, and 14 per cent had even seen a doctor a week before their crash. But only three per cent of these had been reported to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

The author of the report Dr. Donald Redelmeier of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, was quoted by CTV as saying:

“There’s sort of a historical tradition where a lot of physicians didn’t believe road safety was a part of public health…Globally, motor vehicle crashes account for almost 1 million fatalities, far eclipsing malaria for the first time in the history of the planet.”

All Canadian provinces and territories have enacted some form of legislation requiring doctors to report patients who are believed to be unfit to drive a motor vehicle. In some jurisdictions, the duty is mandatory; in others, it is discretionary. In either case, the duty to report is an exception to the normal rules in respect of doctor-patient confidentiality.

The authors suggest a number of reasons why doctors may not be following the law requiring them to report unfit drivers:

Uncertainty as to whether a patients impairment is serious enough to report;

Concerns over how their patients will react;

Being too busy;

Lack of training; and
The view that road safety isn’t a medical problem.

Based on their findings, the authors conclude that mandatory reporting in Ontario “does not achieve its stated purpose.”

Innocent victims of car accident have filed personal injury claims against doctors for failing to report unfit drivers who subsequently caused car accidents. See for example Toms v. Foster

Whatever the reason, a doctors failure to report can have serious consequences, not only for the innocent victims of car accidents caused by unfit drivers, but to the doctors who fail to report them.

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