Medical people, police, lawmakers and drivers are preparing for a conference on safe driving this week in New Hampshire — tackling driver’s education and road design, but also looking at whether should drivers with medical problems be behind the wheel.
With Americans living longer, more have medical conditions that could impair their drive ability. New Hampshire is one of a few states that track crashes related to medical events or illness. Last year, state officials determined that medical events caused nine fatal crashes. Sixty-seven others were blamed in part on physical impairment or illness. So far this year, five fatal crashes in New Hampshire have been caused by medical conditions.
Sponsors of the “Safe Driving Summit,” set for Dec. 9 at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Merrimack, hope the event will be the same kind of catalyst for change that a meeting last year on drunken driving proved to be. The legislature subsequently tightened drunk driving laws.
The speaker’s list includes Dr. Phillip Brewer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale Medical School, who also was a safety fellow for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2002-03. Brewer believes policymakers must look at more than drivers to address the problem. He cites everything from building less complicated cars, to changing zoning so that older people can walk to stores and services if they have to give up driving.
“The bottom line is we need to be more effective about weeding out medically impaired drivers, but we also need to do something for those people so that they still have a life when they can’t drive anymore,” he said.
New Hampshire officials have some company as they begin their inquiry into the medical condition of drivers. Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a national system for collecting data about the medical conditions of drivers involved in crashes. The safety board said the absence of required reporting laws could make state oversight more difficult.
Also, the American Medical Association contributed to a “Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers.” It contains a list of medical conditions and medications that may impair driving, with specific recommendations for each one.
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