Law allows doctors to raise concerns about driving

LANSING (AP) — A Michigan law allows doctors to alert state officials if they believe that a patient’s medical condition makes it unsafe for them to drive, and supporters say it will help keep the public safer on the roads.

The law was approved late last year and clarifies a doctor’s responsibilities when faced with a patient who has vision loss, dementia or other age-related health problems that could threaten their driving abilities, the Detroit Free Press reported recently.

“It’s a big issue with the growing population of seniors,” said Roberta Habowski, who connects seniors with transportation services through the Southfield-based Area Agency on Aging. “It’s a difficult talk to have and not always well received.”

Officials said Michigan’s new law shields doctors from liability if something goes wrong on the road, as in some other states.

“You’ve got all these divergent responsibilities. You have patient confidentiality ... and the well-being of the patient and the safety of the public. The doctor was caught in the middle,” said Colin Ford, director of government relations for the Michigan State Medical Society, which lobbied for the change. The change also was supported by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for her, said the office gets about 400 requests a month to double-check a driver’s ability. About half are from law enforcement; others often come from family members or doctors.

With the change, the office most likely will see an increase in doctors’ letters of concern as more doctors learn about the new law, Woodhams said.

Some aren’t pleased with the process, however. Jim Elliot, 79-year-old retired Warren teacher and diving coach, recently received a letter from the secretary of state’s office that said a concern had been raised about his medical issues. He said he fell out of a tree while hunting last year.

Elliot was told to take a driver’s test before he gets behind a wheel again. His driving, he said, is fine.

“They’re treating me like a criminal. I’ve never been drunk driving. I’ve never been driving with drugs. I don’t have a history of tickets, and yet I’m treated in this manner,” he said.