Should healthcare professionals breach confidentiality when a patient is unfit to drive? 

While all are deeply sympathetic to the victims of road crashes, it is also important that we practice medicine that is evidence-based and supported by principles of public health. Among the many problems with mandatory reporting of medical conditions relevant to driving is the fact that it simply does not work, whether for epilepsy (1), dementia (2) or obstructive sleep apnoea (3) among other conditions. Indeed, there was less reporting of epilepsy in a state with a mandatory reporting regulation than in a state without one (1). The problem of lack of efficacy is compounded by the potential breach in clinician-patient relationship and trust, which may lead to avoidance of seeking treatment which reduce the risk to drivers and the general public.

The one condition for which further study might be helpful in considering mandatory reporting in terms of scale, relevance and major impact on road safety is that of alcohol and substance misuse and dependence. Worryingly, there is much less research in the biomedical literature on this topic (4), and due consideration would need to be given as to whether current guidelines of relatively long periods of driving cessation in many jurisdictions are appropriate in terms of ensuring congruence between mandatory reporting, effective treatment strategies and a due balance between safety and mobility.

Solutions to reducing the relatively modest impact (in public health terms) of other medical conditions on road safety include public campaigns to remind drivers of their responsibility for monitoring and maintaining their own health as well as following professional advice. This needs to be allied to stringent penalties for driving against appropriate professional advice, as occurred in this tragic case. In addition, it is of concern that traffic medicine occupies such a low or absent profile in medical school curricula (4), and it is important all doctors and related healthcare professionals attain a core competence in assessing medical fitness to drive within their scope of practice.

1. Drazkowski JF, Neiman ES, Sirven JI, McAbee GN, Noe KH. Frequency of physician counseling and attitudes toward driving motor vehicles in people with epilepsy: comparing a mandatory-reporting with a voluntary-reporting state. Epilepsy Behav. 2010 Sep;19(1):52-4.
2. Herrmann N, Rapoport MJ, Sambrook R, Hébert R, McCracken P, Robillard A; Canadian Outcomes Study in Dementia (COSID) Investigators.. Predictors of driving cessation in mild-to-moderate dementia. CMAJ. 2006 Sep 12;175(6):591-5.
3. Elgar NJ, Esterman AJ, Antic NA, Smith BJ. Self-Reporting by Unsafe Drivers Is, with Education, More Effective than Mandatory Reporting by Doctors. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016 Mar;12(3):293-9.
4. Mello MJ, Nirenberg TD, Lindquist D, Cullen HA, Woolard R. Physicians’ attitudes regarding reporting alcohol-impaired drivers. Subst Abus. 2003 Dec;24(4):233-42.
5. Hawley CA, Galbraith ND, deSouza VA. Medical education on fitness to drive: a survey of all UK medical schools. Postgrad Med J. 2008 Dec;84(998):635-8.