TORONTO (April 30, 2014) – Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today urged the province to ensure safer roads by fixing numerous flaws in its systems for monitoring drivers with potentially dangerous medical conditions.
In his latest report, Better Safe Than Sorry, Mr. Marin outlines the shocking case of Allan Maki, a Hamilton man who caused a triple-fatal car crash in 2009 while experiencing severe uncontrolled hypoglycemia due to diabetes.
Although Mr. Maki was later tried and convicted of dangerous driving causing death, relatives of the accident victims complained to the Ombudsman that the Ministry of Transportation failed to suspend his driver’s licence for 18 months after the crash.
The Ombudsman’s probe also revealed a litany of inconsistencies, errors and bureaucratic failures in the province’s system for reporting and monitoring drivers with potentially dangerous medical conditions.
“In Mr. Maki’s case, the system clearly broke down,” Mr. Marin writes in the report. Among the problems his investigation uncovered:
- Mr. Maki was given an outdated form to renew his driver’s licence in 2007 that did not refer specifically to needing insulin to control his diabetes, so it was never flagged for medical review;
- After the 2009 accident, the emergency room doctor made a report noting Mr. Maki’s uncontrolled hypoglycemia, but the Ministry had no record of it;
- A Hamilton Police officer said he sent a letter to the Ministry in July 2009, asking for Mr. Maki’s licence to be suspended, but it was never received;
- Ministry officials communicated with Hamilton Police about Mr. Maki’s criminal charges in April 2010, but they were not in the section that deals with medical reviews, and his licence was still not suspended for nine more months;
- Although physicians must report patients with medical conditions that might make it unsafe for them to drive, the forms and instructions given to them for reporting these conditions are unclear;
- Some Ministry staff are uncertain about the medical standards currently in use for assessing driver safety;
- The Ministry rarely follows up to ensure suspended drivers undergo “diabetes education” as required, and the safe-driving curriculum offered is inconsistent across the province.
The monitoring system is also outdated and overly restrictive, the Ombudsman found. For instance, although medical conditions that affect driving must be reported, reports can only be filed by physicians, not nurse practitioners. And there is no way for concerned citizens to report information to the Ministry about drivers with medical conditions that might affect their driving.
The Ministry has agreed to implement all 19 of Mr. Marin’s recommendations, including working with the medical community and stakeholders such as the Canadian Diabetes Association to develop a public guide to driving responsibly with diabetes.
“The potential for catastrophic accidents involving drivers with conditions such as uncontrolled hypoglycemia might have been diminished had the Ministry been more proactive in promoting and monitoring driver safety,” Mr. Marin says in the report. “It is my sincere hope that implementation of my recommendations will lead to safer driving in Ontario and prevent similar devastating incidents.”
The Ombudsman also calls on the government to educate the public about the need for responsible monitoring of medical conditions, similar to what has been done to discourage drinking and driving. “Mr. Maki’s case should be used as a cautionary tale to illustrate the risks associated with hypoglycemia and driving,” he says.
Since Mr. Marin’s appointment in 2005, his office has conducted dozens of investigations into broad systemic problems – in addition to resolving thousands of individual complaints about provincial government services per year. Almost all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations arising from these investigations have been implemented by the government, including improving newborn screening, increasing lottery security and overhauling the property tax assessment system.
For the full report, backgrounders and video of the Ombudsman’s news conference, go to www.ombudsman.on.ca
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