Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Blame traded over failure to ban epileptic drivers

Dec 05. 2017
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A DECADE after a much-publicised fatal road accident in Bangkok – caused by an epileptic driver suffering a seizure – there is still no rule barring people with epilepsy from getting behind the wheel.

As a result, members of the public have questioned which government agency should take the blame for failing to implement such a ban, after an accident on Monday was initially linked to claims by a driver that he suffered an epileptic fit. 

While the Land Transport Department has insisted more discussions with medical specialists are necessary before a related ban can be introduced, the Medical Council has said it has already completed its job in that regard.

Land Transport Department deputy director-general Kamol Buranapong said the department had consulted with the Medical Council and a joint committee was drafting new health criteria including five new symptoms that would disqualify applicants from receiving a driving licence. The five symptoms are epileptic seizures, high blood pressure, brain diseases, myocardial infarction and diabetes.

Kamol said the department had been working with the Medical Council to designate the new criteria since 2007, but there had not been enforcement because the details were still unclear, which could cause problems for the public and misunderstandings.

He said there would be more discussions and he expected the new regulation would be ready within two or three months.

“In the meantime, if we have information that people with driver’s licences have health conditions that may be harmful for driving, the department has the authority to inspect their ability and revoke their licence at anytime,” he said.

However, Medical Council of Thailand deputy secretary-general Dr Ittaporn Kanacharoen made contradictory statements, saying that the committee drafting the new health criteria had already reached its conclusion and specified the full details of each symptom.

He said the Medical Council had been working with the Land Transport Department after a notorious fatal accident in 2007, when Kanpitak Patchimsawat, who is more commonly known as “Moo Ham”, ran his car into a group of bus passengers on the pavement, killing one of them.

The case gained notoriety given Kanpitak’s allegedly light sentence and his claim that he suffered an epileptic seizure at the time of the incident, which generated public concern about health problems that could affect driving ability and road safety.

Ittaporn said that after many years of debate and experience learned from the United States, the European Union and Australia about health conditions affecting the issuance of driver’s licences, medical experts on the committee last year stipulated which medical conditions would preclude a person from receiving a licence.

However, he said the new health criteria had not been implemented because the Land Transport Department had to amend its laws and regulations first.

Ittaporn added that there would be exceptions for people with the five symptoms if they have medication that can control their symptoms, which should help dispel the public’s concerns.

He also emphasised the necessity of enforcement to ensure the safety of drivers, passengers and other people on the road.

Public transport drivers would be the first affected by the new regulation, he said.

However, many people have raised questions whether the new stricter health criteria would help improve road safety.

Dr Withawat Siriprachai, a former director of Koh Lanta Hospital and administrator of the Facebook page Drama Addict, said driver’s licence applicants only had to present a medical certificate showing that they did not have the specified symptoms, which would not really prove that they are healthy.

“Not only do we have the problem that there are medical certificates for sale without real check-ups, even for those people who do have check-ups, it is very hard for a doctor to diagnose some symptoms such as epileptic seizures,” Withawat wrote on Facebook.

“Many of these symptoms are very hard to detect, so a medical certificate cannot guarantee that a person is healthy, as has been confirmed. And we still do not have a central patient database, which makes it impossible to verify a medical certificate.”

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