“The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) warns doctors that they can be liable for injuries to third-parties, when their patients have car crashes.”
As our parents age, we may become concerned that they should no longer be licensed drivers. Their reflexes and reaction times can slow down, making them less capable in an emergency on the road. Normal aging can cause diminishing cognitive abilities. Eyesight can worsen. Medications can make your parent sleepy or groggy, which is dangerous when driving. If he refuses to give up the independence of driving, you could be searching for another solution. Like many adults in America, you may be wondering – Can my dad’s doctor write a note to the DMV to keep him from driving?
Doctors are in a challenging position when they observe that a patient should not be driving. If they notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), they may face lawsuits from the patients alleging violations of the privacy protections of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), but if they remain silent, doctors can face liability if the patient later harms or kills someone when behind the wheel.
In a recent California case, a doctor refused to sign off on a medical certification of a commercial bus driver patient who wanted to become a school bus driver, because the doctor felt he was not safe to drive. She wrote to the DMV, reporting that her patient had congenital or developmental brain damage with impacted his cognitive skills and impaired his judgment, decision-making and impulse control. The DMV suspended his licenses. Although he eventually got his licenses reinstated, he lost his commercial bus driving job.
He sued the doctor, claiming she violated HIPPA by telling the DMV about his medical condition. The trial court rejected his claim, and the patient appealed the decision. The appellate court not only affirmed the trial court’s dismissal , but it also ruled that the doctor could report her concerns because California encourages people to report possible unsafe driving.
Many states besides California urge people to notify the DMV of potentially unsafe driving. Check your state’s DMV website to see if they post forms and procedures to report concerns about a person’s ability to drive safely. If you, as the adult child, knew that your parent’s condition was a safety issue but did nothing to protect others, you could be the subject of a lawsuit, if third parties are injured by your parent when driving. Talk with your parent and document the date of the conversation and what was said. Ask local law enforcement about your options. Talk with your parent’s physician.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) warns doctors they can be liable for injuries to third-parties, when their patients have car crashes. In some states and certain scenarios, physicians must protect public safety. Doctors should learn the laws of their states to understand if they have a statutory obligation to report patients who may be unsafe drivers. Some state DMV websites provide an official reporting form for physicians and guidelines for completing the report.
Because the laws vary from state to state, it is best to talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
Justia. “McNair v. City and County of San Francisco.” (accessed October 5, 2017) http://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2016/a138952.html
NHTSA. “Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers.” (accessed October 5, 2017) https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/olderdriversbook/pages/Chapter7.html