Monday, September 22, 2008

Nova Scotia Discriminates Against Drivers with Mental Illness


"Service Nova Scotia now requires people renewing their licences to indicate on an application form if they’ve had a 'psychiatric or psychological condition'". If the answer to that question is yes, Nova Scotians' are required to provide more in depth information including medical information that is usually kept in strict confidentiality. This medical information is reviewed by provincial government staff and, if necessary, cases can be referred to a committee of specialists to make recommendations on whether the individual is mentally capable of driving. The application also inquires about any history of lung, heart, eye or neurological diseases. Obviously, doctors can charge a fee for this application and without it people run a risk of losing their licence.

Thankfully, Service Nova Scotia has withdrawn this new form, for now, claiming that the "department failed to check the appropriateness of the wording before putting the new forms into use." Instead, Dulcie McCallum, Nova Scotia's freedom of information and protection of privacy review officer, states that "it would be more appropriate to ask if people were taking any prescription medication that could affect their driving". "That doesn’t connect it to any particular illness or disability or historically disadvantaged group and it may be a bona fide question", she continues. Now, this does not sound like the idea has been completely rejected. In fact, the renewal process still asks whether one has a mental or physical disability that may prevent them from properly operating a motor vehicle and depending on one's response, more detailed information could be requested.

Typically, people come to the realisation that they are no longer able to drive on their own; however Nova Scotia has decided that the government must decide when an individual is no longer mentally fit for driving. Paul Arsenault of the provincial registrar of motor vehicles insists that this is important for public safety.

Granted, prescription medication is being prescribed in record doses, but as far as I know, doctors still have a legal obligation to report whether someone is no longer capable of operating a motor vehicle? Or do they? Apparently, Nova Scotia's doctors are not bound by law to report such cases. Should this not be a more appropriate angle, especially since doctors already have the power to prescribe and have total access to a medical history? It seems more than ridiculous to expect government bureaucrats to police the province’s drivers. What’s next? Are government employees going to start patrolling for drunk drivers too?

David Simpson, an Ontario rights advocate of the Mental Health Police Records Coalition explains that "what you always have to be worried about in situations like this is if there is some sort of systemic bias in place or covert discrimination, that they believe because you have a mental illness you’re going to use your vehicle as a weapon to injure people or injure yourself." What about people busy texting, eating, chatting on their cell phone, fiddling with their blackberry, or operating their GPS?

Furthermore, how long would it be before people with high blood pressure and risk of heart attack or stroke lose their licence as well? We can only hope this line of
thinking doesn’t make its way into Ontario.

Government cancels form asking drivers about mental health
Critics: Don’t tie driver’s licence renewal to psychiatric history

POLL RESULTS:

Should one's mental health be considered when issuing a driver's licence?

38% - YES

61% - NO

© www.mentalhealthblog.com

2 comments:

Clueless said...

Oh, this increased my blood pressure just reading it. I really hope this does not cause other places to begin looking at other discriminatory practices. I feel that it is up to the physician and the patient to decide if one is capable of driving or not and in confidence. The only thing that they should have is a form from whatever doctor stating whether or not one can drive.

Now, I've been diagnoses with borderline personality, major depression, PTSD and Dissociative Disorder NOS as a result I am on a ton of medications that I require to get through my day. If I have to write all of my medications down, it will be an automatic red flag as the side effect of most are dizziness and drowsiness, but I know what to take and how so that I can drive safely and my driving records will prove it. I don't know what the laws are here in California, but my psychiatrist and one time discussed my ability to drive because of my dissociating while driving, but it hasn't been a problem since. I think he should be the one to make the determination.

I know of several people with seizure disorders that drive, so they require a statement from their doctor that their seizures are stable enough for them to drive.

A pastor of a local church had a heart attack while driving and died. Should the government have taken his license away. How many people go undiagnosed, untreated or will not report truthfully.

Any country, state, province, etc...had better think this through because it becomes discriminatory. Or out here we have pre-work physicals which you must pass in order to be hired for your postition. It is a standard form and the employer only receives a statement that there are not restrictions to working or states them if there are any. Oh, that they even got as far as they did makes me angry. I understand the concern, but did they work with mental health officials to make the decisions or psychitrists and psychologists?

meg said...

I totally agree. The breach of confidentiality is a major faux pas. The idea of asking someone whether they have a history of mental illness in order to get their medication list is ridiculous. If a prescription says "may cause" then it may not cause either. It's definitely the wrong way to go about trying to keep the roads safer.

However, the problem lies in the fact that this particular province doesn't require that doctors revoke a driver's licence when there is a belief that a person is unable to drive safely. They really need to act on this from a different perspective. Leave it to the doctors, like many other places. Why this law doesn't exist is most shocking. It follows along the same lines as when a doctor is obligated to admit a patient when it is believed that there may be a risk to her/him or others. I can't understand why they'd leave it up the government when it is clearly not their place.