Background: Physicians' warnings to patients who are potentially unfit to drive are a medical intervention intended to prevent trauma from motor vehicle crashes. We assessed the association between medical warnings and the risk of subsequent road crashes.
Methods: We identified consecutive patients who received a medical warning in Ontario, Canada, between April 1, 2006, and December 31, 2009, from a physician who judged them to be potentially unfit to drive. We excluded patients who were younger than 18 years of age, who were not residents of Ontario, or who lacked valid health-card numbers under universal health insurance. We analyzed emergency department visits for road crashes during a baseline interval before the warning and a subsequent interval after the warning.
Results: A total of 100,075 patients received a medical warning from a total of 6098 physicians. During the 3-year baseline interval, there were 1430 road crashes in which the patient was a driver and presented to the emergency department, as compared with 273 road crashes during the 1-year subsequent interval, representing a reduction of approximately 45% in the annual rate of crashes per 1000 patients after the warning (4.76 vs. 2.73, P<0.001). The lower rate was observed across patients with diverse characteristics. No significant change was observed in subsequent crashes in which patients were pedestrians or passengers. Medical warnings were associated with an increase in subsequent emergency department visits for depression and a decrease in return visits to the responsible physician.
Conclusions: Physicians' warnings to patients who are potentially unfit to drive may contribute to a decrease in subsequent trauma from road crashes, yet they may also exacerbate mood disorders and compromise the doctor-patient relationship. (Funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and others.).