First published in the Feb. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino introduced Senate Bill 357 Wednesday, a bill that would give doctors the discretion to report any conditions they believe will impair a patient’s ability to drive, by removing language that discriminates against specific conditions, including epilepsy.
“SB 357 protects drivers with epilepsy by improving the patient-physician relationship,” Portantino said in a statement. “It’s time to remove the discriminatory practice of mandatory reporting in California and allow individuals affected by epilepsy to seek the care they need without fear of losing their driving licenses.”
Epilepsy is the fourth-most common neurological disorder, affecting more than 3.4 million Americans and more than 425,000 Californians. A state law from 1957 discriminates against drivers with epilepsy and other conditions by requiring physicians to automatically report these drivers to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Based on an outdated law from 1957, California is one of the only states that still requires doctors to report all patients with epilepsy to the DMV, but research has shown that mandatory reporting requirements may lead people with epilepsy to withhold crucial information from their doctors, risking an increase in seizures, which can lead to injury and even death,” said Rebekkah Halliwell, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation Los Angeles.
“By removing mandatory reporting while still allowing doctors to identify any patient they believe might not be able to drive safely, Sen. Portantino’s bill protects the doctor-patient relationship, improves access to care for people with epilepsy and ends decades of discrimination against the more than 425,000 Californians living with epilepsy,” said Halliwell.
Research has shown that these requirements often result in patients withholding crucial information from their physicians and not seeking the care they need, out of fear of losing their right to drive. When a person with epilepsy withholds such critical information from their doctor, they jeopardize their access to appropriate care, risking an increase of seizure activity or even a loss of seizure control.
SB 357 will:
• Give doctors the discretion to report any conditions they believe will impair a patient’s ability to drive, by removing language that discriminates against specific conditions, including epilepsy;
• Allow but not require doctors to make such reports; and
• Protect the doctor-patient relationship by providing immunity for physicians for either reporting or not reporting patients.
“People living with epilepsy should be able to seek care from their doctors without fear of losing their driver’s licenses,” said Halliwell.