Monday, January 16, 2017

Patients with Mental Conditions need Clearance to Drive

Every single day, our roads are used by thousands of motorists and pedestrians from all walks of life, and in different age groups.  Due to aging issues, the elderly is the most vulnerable group in meeting with accidents, whether it is crossing the roads, climbing up escalators/overhead bridges or driving vehicles.
With e-bikes and E-scooters now being allowed on our busy roads, coupled with tipper trucks that do rush jobs to earn more money, driving on the roads means all road users have to stay alert all the time. You may be a motorist with excellent driving skills, but if the driver next to you or behind you is reckless, accidents can so easily take place. It has happened time and again and sadly, some have lost their lives in the cruelest way.
Driving is a complex skill that requires adequate information processing, sustained attention or vigilance, concentration, and a good memory of the roads and what was taught by driving instructors. Drivers must have control over impulse and risk-taking, and their judgment should be mature and unimpaired, with the ability to anticipate the actions of other road users.
Don’t be surprised that on our busy roads there are motorists who have mental health issues that are either not treated or given follow-up treatment.  With Singapore being such a stressful place, it is not surprising that there are people walking about or driving around with depression or other more serious mental disorders.  I still recall what Mr. Khaw Boon Wan once said during his tenure as Health Minister: “All of us have some mental health issues, the question is to what degree?”
I have read reports of males and even females going nude in public places that includes on buses and on our roads. No one in his/her right frame of mind will demean themselves in such a manner.  In some cases, it was discovered that they were grappling with some mental health issues.
At times those who resort to reckless driving may have mental health issues as they are not in the right frame of mind.  Moreover, if they are on medication, they could feel drowsy from the effects of the medications.  That in itself can pose a danger when they drive.
Those found guilty of causing the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public shall be guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.
Now if such a driver is guilty of such an offense and who is found to be suffering from a mental disorder, there is bound to be further stigmatization of mental illness.  
So how can we make our roads safe and sound from those with mental health issues who drive?
To begin with, patients who are being treated for a mental disorder – mild or serious, either by a government or private psychiatrist has to declare if he/she drives a vehicle upon the first consultation but it has to be done subtly and professionally.    
Next up, to ensure the safety of such drivers as well as the other road users, it will be prudent to allow these drivers with such conditions to hold a ‘Restricted’ driving license, subject to medical review by a panel of psychiatrists or the treating psychiatrist at appropriate intervals. This restricted license will apply to most people who have a severe, but stable mental disorder.  Once the doctor/s give the all clear signal, the patient/s can be allowed to drive on our roads. As an added precaution, a driving re-test has to be carried out.
Finally, to ensure that such patients keep themselves in a good frame of mind, it is crucial for the hospital or clinics to make it a must for all to follow up on their treatment.


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