Background: In some jurisdictions, physicians are required by law to report patients with seizures to the department of motor vehicles. We assessed the hypothesis that mandatory reporting reduces the risk of automobile accidents in people with epilepsy.
Methods: A retrospective survey of driving and accident rates was done by mailed questionnaire to two groups of subjects with epilepsy in Canada, one living in Ontario where reporting is mandatory and the other in Alberta where it is not. Responses were obtained from a control group without epilepsy for comparison.
Results: The epilepsy (n = 425) and control (n = 375) groups were comparable in age and sex. Seventy-three percent of the epilepsy group were or had been licensed drivers compared to 94% of the controls (rr 0.77, 95% CI 0.73-0.83, p < 0.001). Lifetime accident rate of licensed drivers was 58% in epilepsy and 60% in controls (rr 0.99, 95%CI 0.82-1.19, ns) while 9% of the epilepsy group and 9% of the controls had an accident in the previous year (rr 1.00, 95%CI 0.95-1.06, ns). All those with epilepsy in Ontario (n = 202) and Alberta (n = 223), also comparable in age and sex, had equal lifetime accident rates of 45 and 46% (rr 0.99, 95%CI 0.67-1.47, ns) and 1-year rates of 11 and 8% (rr 1.38, 95%CI 0.59-3.27, ns). In Ontario, 20% of drivers were unlicensed compared to 9% in Alberta (rr 2.39, 95%CI 1.17-4.89, p = 0.01)
Conclusion: Although it is clearly dangerous for many people with ongoing seizures to drive, the findings provide no support for the hypothesis that mandatory reporting of patients by physicians reduces accident risk and suggest that concerns about the impact of epilepsy on driving compared to other medical and nonmedical risk factors may be excessive.