Traffic safety issues

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 46 , No. 5 , June 2004 , Letters

I am the RCMP sergeant in charge of the Langley Detachment Traffic Section. Two issues have surfaced in our community that would be beneficial if shared with the doctors of BC. The issues relate to seatbelt exemption certificates and elderly drivers.

Section 220(5) of the Motor Vehicle Act permits a practitioner to sign a certificate, valid for up to 6 months, that exempts a person from wearing a seatbelt assembly for medical reasons. As was eloquently stated to me by a doctor in Alberta, “I know of no medical condition that would make a person safer not wearing a seatbelt than wearing one.”

The unbelted occupant of a motor vehicle exposes himself or herself to the possibility of a high-speed collision with the interior of the vehicle or being ejected, or partially ejected, from the vehicle. I’m confident that most doctors have seen the results and would concur that seatbelt use minimizes the potential injuries. The airbags in newer vehicles, both front- and side-impact airbags, are designed to lessen injuries to belted occupants. The airbag is a supplemental restraint, and does not reduce the need for seatbelt use.

Most manufacturers have seatbelt extensions available for persons of large stature who do not fit in the standard seatbelt assembly.

If a person has an injury or is recuperating from a medical procedure that would be further injured or uncomfortable when wearing a seatbelt, consideration should be given to not allowing that person to ride in a motor vehicle until he or she can properly wear a seatbelt.

I would strongly discourage doctors from signing exemption certificates, with few exceptions. The current seatbelt wear rate in BC is almost 90%. The 10% that choose not to wear seatbelts account for one-half of the fatalities.

The more delicate topic is the elderly or those with medical conditions that would make it dangerous for them to operate a motor vehicle. Section 230 of the Motor Vehicle Act compels medical professionals to report patients to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles if they do not comply with the practitioner’s warning not to drive. I have no doubt that doctors are hesitant to report their patients and even more hesitant to take away the freedom that driving provides to the elderly.

On March 29, Langley Detachment attended a fatal motor vehicle collision where an elderly handicapped male turned left in front of a five-ton delivery truck, killing his wife. Although I don’t know whether his ability to drive was impaired by age-related deterioration of his senses or his handicap, it is possible that intervention by a doctor may have prevented this tragedy. I can’t help but think this is a horrible way to end a long life.

Collectively we can make the highways of BC safer.

—Sgt. I.E. (Ted) Emanuels
NCO i/c Traffic Services
RCMP Langley Detachment

. Traffic safety issues. BCMJ, Vol. 46, No. 5, June, 2004, Page(s) - Letters.

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