The Massachusetts Public Health Council just approved new regulations (105 CMR 309) intended to give healthcare providers additional guidance on when it is appropriate to report concerns about impaired driving abilities in their patients. Although physicians are not required to report driving impairment (they are not "mandated reporters") the Massachusetts legislature passed a law in 2010 that encourages them to report suspected issues to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and gives them immunity from law suits if they do. Hopefully the new rules will also encourage more doctors to step in and help families discuss the matter with their elders. As anyone with an elder driver in the family knows, talking to seniors about driving deficiencies can be difficult.
It is important to note that the regulations specifically point out that age or illness, in and of themselves, should not be considered factors that would disqualify a person from driving. Instead, the physicians and healthcare providers should rely on "observations or evidence" that the patient is no longer able to drive safely. The rules focus on cognitive impairments, conditions that limit "a person's ability to sustain attention, avoid distraction, understand immediate driving context, and refrain from impulsive responding." Similarly, the new regulations attempt to define "functional impairments" including an "inability or diminished capacity to consistently maintain a firm grasp on or manipulate a steering wheel or driving hand controls.’’