Driving wrong way on highway - drunk or confused?

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We hear of this often enough to make me cringe. Drivers going onto divided highways and travelling the wrong way. Most of the cases are due to severe impairment of the driver and occur at night. They often end in tragedy with the driver either hitting oncoming traffic head on, or going off the road. It is a completely avoidable situation due to alcohol or drug impairment.

There was a recent case in Waterloo Region caught on camera by a passenger in another car which involved a driver travelling in adverse conditions on the highway in the wrong direction. The offending driver was eventually apprehended but was not charged asthe driver was deemed confused.

As our population ages we are going to have to give more serious thought to how we assess drivers and their fitness to maintain their licences. Currently licences can be removed for medical reasons by various professionals such as doctors, optometrists, and ophthalmologists. In many cases however, they must rely on family members raising the concern about the aging parent/loved one’s fitness to drive.

Physicians rely on the CMA Driver’s Guide in assessing their patients and rely on

  • signs of dementia and mild cognitive impairment
  • assessment of musculoskeletal disabilities, psychiatric illness, cerebrovascular diseases
  • diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries, including concussion

They also follow the practice management guidelines issued by the OMA. According to Dr. John Crosby of Cambridge, “Informing a patient that he or she may no longer be fit to drive is never easy, and often presents challenges. It is one of the worst parts of my job.”

Physicians take this responsibility extremely seriously recognizing the impacts it has on life. They follow clearly laid out steps which include:

  1. Learning about the issue and consulting with MTO as required
  2. Gathering all the evidence to evaluate fitness including a physical, investigating medical history, referral to other specialties.
  3. Holding family meetings to discuss the issue if required and permitted.

They expect resistance from the patient and sometimes from the family as well. They also understand what is at stake particularly when the patient themselves does not recognize the presence of the impairments. Medical professionals are required by law to report unfit drivers to MTO and are protected from legal action from families and patients by law. Doctors often get caught in the middle of family disputes, or become the victim of verbal abuse by the patient. It is important to remember though that they are acting in the best interest of everyone when this drastic measure is taken.