IS YOUR DOCTOR SPYING ON YOU?

The BC Medical Association and the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles worked together in partnership to prepare something called the “BC Guide in Determining Fitness to Drive”. This guide is approximately 400 pages long.

The guide speaks to a myriad of medical problems that might affect one’s ability to drive and, accordingly, affect the safety of other motorists.

Obviously, drivers with eyesight problems or hearing difficulties can present dangers. So too can drivers who suffer from seizures or epilepsy. But, did you know that drivers with coronary artery disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, frailty, or lack of stamina might also fall under the watchful eye of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles?

How might a driver with a medical condition come to the attention of the Superintendent? Most obviously is when a driver’s licence must be renewed. Applicants for renewal are asked about medical conditions that may affect their driving. Staff at the counter might administer an eye sight test, for example, or may learn of another medical condition.

It is not uncommon for the investigating police officer of traffic offences, or traffic accidents, to become concerned with the medical condition of a driver involved and write to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles about those concerns. Presumably other individuals might contact the Superintendent, such as neighbours, coworkers, friends, or family members.

Be aware, however, that doctors, optometrists, and even registered psychologists play a role in reporting to the Superintendent. In fact, the Motor Vehicle Act requires that those individuals report to the Superintendent if a patient has a medical condition that makes it dangerous to the patient, or to the public, for the patient to drive, and if the patient continues to drive after being warned of the danger.

So, beware when you visit your doctor to complain about a soreness in your limbs that makes it difficult to drive your truck. Or, when you describe problems sleeping, or complain about tiredness. The conversations that you are having with your doctor are not as confidential as you may believe. You may think that you are describing your ailments to help the doctor diagnose your problem for treatment purposes. What you may in fact be doing is supplying the doctor with evidence to be used against you, to justify the downgrading or lifting of your driver’s licence. And, your doctor may well be reporting you to the Superintendent without your even being aware of that.

The Superintendent operates something called the “Driver Fitness Program”. About 120,000 drivers are annually assessed under the program. Each year about 3,400 have their driving privileges cancelled or denied for fitness reasons, and 2,500 have their driving privileges restricted or reduced. So, for example, a person with a Class 1 licence might see that reduced to a Class 5.  

A driver falling into the program is going to receive in the mail a Driver’s Medical Examination Request. Usually that means that the driver must visit his or her doctor to have that doctor administer the driver’s medical examination. The results are sent back to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. Depending upon the results, nothing further may come of it. Or, it is quite possible that a further medical and/or functional assessment is required, and often in that case the driver will be directed to an ICBC subcontracted centre that is set up to conduct these assessments. This centre might do a medical exam, or conduct a driving test, or both. By the way, this is all at the driver’s expense, and one can expect to pay $1,600 for this in some circumstances.

Be aware that the Motor Vehicle Act allows a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach by the Superintendent. It is entirely possible for the Superintendent to suspend a licence, or downgrade a licence, until such time as the medical assessment is conducted and fitness to drive is proved. That would be the exception, not the rule.

The whole process can be a bureaucratic nightmare, and certainly the Superintendent’s office does not have the same enthusiasm for resolving the issue promptly as does the affected driver.

There is a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada called Grismer, where a truck driver lost most of his left-side peripheral vision in both eyes. His licence was cancelled. Mr. Grismer complained that his human rights had been affected, i.e. that he had been denied a licence on the basis of a physical disability. It was decided that the Superintendent couldn’t simply apply a one-size-fits-all vision standard from the policy manual to deny the licence. Instead, he had to give Mr. Grismer a chance to prove through an individual assessment that he could be licenced without jeopardizing the goal of reasonable road safety. As a result of that decision, the Superintendent is now focusing on a case-by-case assessment, rather than applying unwavering rules.

The bottom line for commercial drivers is that the result of a lifting of driving privileges, or even a downgrading of driving privileges, can be severe. Be cautious in the way that you deal with your doctor. And, do not ignore letters that come to you from the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, as that will only make the matter worse.

John Drayton is a Kamloops lawyer practising in the areas of forest and motor transport law.