29 September 2011

Are you fit to drive?

This is a sensitive subject, and one that most of us don't want to face. But we should. M.E. is a neurological illness, and many of its symptoms can affect our fitness to drive.

These are the UK guidelines. I've marked in purple the classifications that may apply to M.E. patients.
DVLA states that it must be informed if there is:
  • An epileptic event (seizure or fit).
  • Sudden attacks of disabling giddiness, fainting or blackouts.
  • Severe mental handicap.
  • A pacemaker, defibrillator or anti-ventricular tachycardia device fitted.
  • Diabetes controlled by insulin or tablets.
  • Angina while driving.
  • Parkinson's disease.
  • Any other chronic neurological condition.
  • A serious problem with memory.
  • A major or minor cerebrovascular event.
  • Any type of brain surgery, brain tumour or severe head injury involving inpatient treatment at hospital.
  • Any severe psychiatric illness or mental disorder.
  • Continuing/permanent difficulty in the use of arms or legs which affects your ability to control a vehicle.
  • Dependence on or misuse of alcohol, illicit drugs or chemical substances in the past 3 years (do not include drink/driving offences).
  • Any visual disability which affects BOTH eyes (do not declare short/long sight or colour blindness).
The last time I drove was, perhaps ironically, when I drove to the walk in clinic to be seen for the sinus infection that triggered my M.E. I was in the US at the time, driving my mom's minivan. In the UK, we haven't owned a car for several years. I don't want to surrender my driver's license though, because it's useful as a form of ID. I don't like having to use my passport for that.

But I was recently told that I probably was required to do so. I asked my GP today, and he said I was required to inform the DVLA, and they would make the decision. So I just sent them an email.
Drivers Medical Group
SA99 1TU
Fax: 0845 850 0095
Email: eftd@dvla.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: 0300 790 6806
(Monday to Friday, 8.00 am to 5.30 pm and Saturday, 8.00 am to 1.00 pm)
Of course, this is just the legal responsibility (which will vary between countries and US states). But there's more to consider.

What is your moral responsibility towards other people on the road, as well as to your own friends and family and caregivers? Every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you're accepting the responsibility to operate a dangerous piece of machinery at high speeds. Can you really say, honestly, that you should be doing this? If another driver were in your current condition, would you want them headed towards you in the other lane at 60 mph?

No matter how tempting it is to drive, think of how you would feel if you put someone in the hospital. What if it caused them to live with chronic pain or disability for the rest of their lives? What if you made your own condition significantly worse? What if someone died?

Should all persons with M.E. be banned from driving? No. But they should all - every one of them - have a plan for what to do if they are being the wheel of a car and have an episode of severe exhaustion, brainfog, or any other condition that makes it unsafe to drive. Make a list of people you can call who can come and pick you up. Include the numbers for taxi companies in case you can't get hold of a friend, and include the local police. You can also contact local Designated Driver organizations designed to assist drunk drivers and see if they are able to help people who should not drive because of a medical condition. Put this list in every vehicle that you are ever likely to drive, and be prepared to pull over and use it rather than think 'I'm only two miles from home. I should just push on. It won't be too bad...'

Oh, and if you are driving without a mobile phone, don't! The technology exists, it's cheap, and it's really stupid for someone with a chronic illness to be without a way to call for help.

Everyone with a chronic condition that may impair their fitness to drive should consider both their legal and moral responsibilities. Even if you are able to drive now, make your plans for what you will do in an emergency situation if you are away from home, and decide how you will know when you should give up driving for good.

1 comment:

  1. Deciding to give up most driving was one of the most difficult things I've done. It was also one of the more freeing. While I continued some driving, I pushed myself to accomplish the things I thought a responsible adult should do. Of course I couldn't do many of them, and paid in exhaustion for the attempts. Not driving is safer for me and the rest of the world, and reserves my energy for other things. It is also an acknowledgement that I can't do a lot of things, and that's OK.

    I do drive a few times a year - for very short distances, with 1 or 2 stops, and then back home. I only do this when feeling better than usual