Although there are many causes of car and truck crashes, debilitating medical events are sometimes a contributing factor in major accidents. A medical event can come on suddenly as the result of an unexpected medical condition, like a stroke or heart attack, or it can be the result of a known condition, like epilepsy or diabetes. According to a 2008 crash causation study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), physical impairments and medical conditions contributed to at least 133 crashes over a period of two and a half years. Unfortunately, contributing medical causes aren’t always reported or recorded after an accident, so the actual number of crashes involving medically unfit drivers may be higher in reality.
Texas Restricts Licenses for Some Drivers With Potentially Dangerous Medical Issues
People with known medical conditions often face the challenge of deciding whether or not it is safe for them to drive. Not only must they consider their own safety, but the safety of others on the road must be considered, as well. Because drivers with known medical conditions can cause serious accidents if they become incapacitated while driving, Texas has specific laws governing the motor vehicle privileges of such drivers, and there are many basic guidelines for doctors recommending restrictions. Commercial drivers may also be subject to additional medical driving restrictions under federal laws, industry regulations, and employer policies.
In some states, doctors are mandatory reporters for patients who have or who develop certain medical conditions. This means that they are required by law to notify their state’s motor vehicle administration that their patient may not be fit to drive. However, in Texas, physician reporting is voluntary. Your doctor may report you—either as your physician or anonymously—to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) so that the appropriate action can be taken. A final decision about whether or not you will be allowed to drive is usually made by the Medical Advisory Board (MAB). The MAB is comprised of 40 physicians who give advice to the DPS about medical conditions that can affect driving ability.
Texas License Restrictions for Drivers With Epilepsy or Other Seizure Disorders
People with epilepsy or other seizure disorders can suffer from a loss of mobility, sensation, or consciousness without warning. Even if this only happens for a moment behind the wheel, the results can be deadly. In Texas, there are some driving restrictions for drivers diagnosed with seizure disorders:
- You must be seizure free for three months before you can get a license to drive. This seizure-free period must be certified by your doctor.
- If you are seizure free for three months, you may qualify for a Class C (non-commercial) license with a “P” restriction. The “P” restriction means you may drive regular consumer cars and trucks, but you may not drive a passenger-transport vehicle, such as a bus, taxi, or emergency vehicle.
- If you are both seizure free and off medication for five years, you may be able to obtain an unrestricted license, whether commercial or consumer.
If you already have a license and later develop epilepsy, you should notify the Department of Public Safety (DPS). If your request for a license is denied, you may appeal the decision. To do this you must petition for a hearing in the Justice of the Peace Court or Municipal Court. You have thirty days to file a petition after your license is revoked or denied.
Heart Attacks, Strokes, and Accidents
In many cases, it can be hard to predict a heart attack or stroke. However, for drivers who have been diagnosed with heart issues or have had a heart-related medical event or stroke in the past, there may be some limits on their ability to drive. For example, drivers who have had a recent stent placement or suffer from atrial fibrillation may not be restricted from driving, as long as they are currently medically stable and taking the appropriate medication. A commercial driver who has undergone the placement of an automatic implantable cardio-defibrillator may be restricted from driving forever, and non-commerical drivers may be restricted for six months or more after placement. Patients who have experienced a stroke or heart attack in the past may need to undergo a comprehensive driving evaluation before the restriction is determined.
The driving restrictions for heart patients are very different depending on the details of each patient’s condition and medical treatment. Doctors typically use the medical restriction recommendations for specific conditions, as well as their own judgement, when making recommendations for heart patients.
The Potential Effect of Diabetes on Driving
Diabetes can affect vision, reduce feeling in the feet and legs, and even cause loss of consciousness. In Texas, basic driving restrictions for diabetes are typically based on whether or not drivers use insulin to control their diabetes. Drivers generally need to undergo a medical exam for driving if they are taking insulin or have lost consciousness in the last three years. Depending on the degree of severity and control, drivers with diabetes may be restricted from driving for a period of six months or longer, and they may only qualify for a license with restrictions on commercial or passenger-transport driving.
Generally, for commercial licenses in Texas, the driver cannot qualify if he or she has diabetes that requires insulin. However, in some cases, it may be possible to apply for an exemption.
Medical Issues of Sleep and Drowsiness
Drowsy driving can be deadly driving, so driving restrictions may apply for drivers who suffer from a medical condition that interferes with their sleep or alertness, such as:
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep issues caused by shift work
In these kinds of cases, the driver may not be allowed to drive until treatment is stabilized, and he or she generally must show compliance with recommended treatment before qualifying for an unrestricted license.
Some medications, both prescription and over the counter, can also make drivers sleepy or confused. Illegal drug and alcohol use is clearly restricted, but prescription drugs used in the treatment of chronic pain, psychiatric disorders, and other conditions can have similarly dangerous effects on driving ability. The law sometimes has driving restrictions for specific kinds of medication, but doctors’ recommendations and medical examinations may be necessary to determine if a prescription medication affects driving ability. Although there are not specific laws that apply, keep in mind that even over-the-counter use of cold medicines, sleep aids, and other remedies may have a negative effect on a person’s ability to drive.
Dizziness or Vertigo
Vertigo or dizziness can make it very difficult, even impossible, to drive. In Texas, there are strict limitations on driving for patients with vertigo issues:
- Drivers who are experiencing uncontrolled vertigo, whether constantly or intermittently, may not drive in Texas.
- Drivers who are taking sedative medication to control their dizziness are also restricted from driving. This also extends to commercial drivers who are taking certain types of medications for vertigo.
Other Conditions on Doctor Recommendation
Texas law sets out restrictions for many medical conditions, and it recognizes that there are a lot of different medical issues or medications that impact driving. Doctors in Texas may choose to recommend that patients should be restricted from driving or undergo an evaluation of their driving fitness, even if the medical condition isn’t expressly mentioned in state laws. A doctor might choose to recommend a patient to the Texas Department of Public Safety for any number of conditions, including:
- Cancer and cancer treatment
- Neck and spine disorders
- Dementia and cognitive impairment
- Psychiatric disorders
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Head and brain injuries
- Movement disorders
- Multiple medical issues or otherwise complex medical conditions
Getting Legal Help If a Medically Unfit Driver Contributed to a Wreck
The medical condition of the driver causing the accident can figure heavily in the outcome of a personal injury case. If you believe that the other driver’s medical condition may have played a part in an accident in which you were injured, it is important that you at least speak with an attorney before moving forward with your injury claim. This will help you understand what to expect from your case and also avoid accepting less than your case is truly worth.
Unfit drivers are especially an issue in personal injury cases involving commercial driving and trucking. Although safety laws and trucking regulations exist, they are not always enough to prevent medical conditions from contributing to truck accidents, which are often deadly for the drivers who are hit. What’s especially disturbing is that this has been an issue for years, despite numerous government warnings that truck and bus drivers with known health issues have caused hundreds of accident deaths and injuries. It’s so bad that, in every single state, truckers have been caught violating federal medical rules, with Texas listed as one of the states with the most violators.
Some of the issues contributing to this problem have been highlighted in past safety reports and congressional inquiries, such as the fabrication of necessary medical certificates and “doctor shopping,” where truckers go to multiple doctors to find one who will give them a medical certificate—even though they know they have a health issue that should preclude them from driving. Even worse, it has been estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of drivers currently carrying commercial licenses in the U.S. who also qualify for full federal disability payments.
There is no excuse for medically unfit drivers, whether they are operating 18-wheelers or regular sedans, to be on the road endangering the lives of the traveling public. To get help understanding your legal rights after a car or truck crash, please contact the experienced auto accident and injury attorneys at VB Attorneys at 1-877-724-7800 or by starting a Live Chat now.