When you’re driving, you need all of your attention and abilities at the ready. You must be able to focus on the task at hand, anticipate the actions of the drivers around you, and react very quickly.
Despite being ready for everything, however, unexpected events can occur. Major medical incidents while behind the wheel can happen to anyone. Imagine driving down a busy highway, and suddenly you begin to lose consciousness. It is a terrifying and potentially life-threatening situation.
Everyone is at risk when there is a major medical incident on the road – the driver, their passengers, and those around them. Common medical emergencies that can strike while driving include heart attacks, strokes, epileptic seizures, and diabetic emergencies. The driver may be disoriented, lose consciousness, or be unable to maintain control over the vehicle. In these moments, it’s crucial to try to pull over to a safe location or signal for help using hazard lights, if possible, to avoid further endangering yourself and others. Call 911 immediately.
Driving when someone else is experiencing a major medical incident
Witnessing someone else experiencing a major medical incident while driving can be equally distressing. It’s hard not to panic and immediately try to leap into action. In such scenarios, remaining calm is essential. Attempting to control the vehicle from the passenger seat is not advisable, as it can lead to further accidents. The priority should be to seek professional medical help as quickly as possible to ensure the affected individual receives appropriate care. Call 911 and try to communicate with the driver and encourage them to pull over safely. Follow the directions of emergency personnel.
Liability after an accident involving a medical incident
In Alberta, car insurance coverage is typically based on factors such as driving history, vehicle type, and the driver’s health condition. A major medical incident while driving can have significant implications for both the driver and their insurance coverage.
If you experience a medical emergency that leads to an accident, your insurance provider might investigate whether what caused it was known or not. If you did not disclose prior knowledge of a medical condition when you purchased your car insurance, your coverage could be invalidated, leading to your being responsible for potential liabilities for damages.
Alternatively, if you had an unforeseen medical incident that resulted in an accident, definitely notify your insurance provider or broker as soon as possible. There will be an investigation to determine liability and the extent of coverage for the damages caused, where your health and driving record will be taken into account during the claims process.
Driver medical fitness in Alberta
Alberta uses the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators Medical Standards as a guideline in establishing the basic minimum medical and visual qualifications for safe driving.
By law, all Albertans are to report any medical, physical, or functional conditions or changes in health that may affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Driving after a stroke or heart attack
After a major medical incident such as a heart attack or stroke, a driver may receive a temporary (or permanent) restriction on their licence. As strokes are far more detrimental to cognition and mobility, all Albertans who have suffered a stroke will receive a temporary (or permanent) restriction on their licence. In general, about one in three people will be able to drive again after a stroke. The minimum restriction is 30 days, and your family practitioner will need to fill out a Medical Examination for Motor Vehicle Operators form and send it to Alberta Transportation in order for you to drive again.
Your cardiologist will decide if you are able to drive after a heart attack based on several factors, such as:
- The duration between onset of chest pain and intervention
- The location of the myocardial infarction
- The heart’s pumping ability
- The procedure used to restore blood flow to narrowed vessels and the degree of restoration
- Stability of the heart rhythm
- Duration of hospital stay
- Complications in hospital
- Participation in cardiac rehabilitation
Generally speaking, most drivers will be able to take the wheel again after a heart attack.
Determining medical fitness to drive in Alberta
If you are unsure if you or someone else is medically fit to drive, the Government of Alberta has provided a driver medical fitness review that can be carried out with a general practitioner. Remember, everyone is required to self-report any disease or disability that may interfere with their ability to drive safely. This is literally a contract you enter when you obtain an Alberta driver’s licence, which contains some very specific wording on the back that says, “In accordance with Alberta law it is an offence to have more than one Driver’s Licence and you must declare any medical conditions that may interfere with the safe operation of a motor vehicle.”
To declare a change in your medical status that makes you unfit to drive, email [email protected]. Alternatively, you can go to an Alberta Registry Agent.
Aging and driving
As we age, we are all at a higher risk of deteriorating health that may impact our ability to drive. Aging is associated with increased risk for a broad range of medical conditions, such as visual impairments, musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cognitive impairment and dementia. These medical conditions and the medications used to treat them quite often affects our fitness to drive.
In Alberta, medical examination requirements have been set to protect the safety of aging drivers and those around them. For Class 3, 5, 6, and 7 drivers, medical reports are required at age 75, age 80, and every two years after age 80.
If you are worried about the ability of a loved one or friend to drive, you can report a driver fitness concern through Alberta’s Driver Programs Client Support Centre.
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