The Kokomo Tribune recently reported a three-vehicle crash on the northbound lane of US 31. The driver who allegedly caused the crash is now thought to have had a medical episode that might have contributed to his dangerous behavior on the road.
As police continue to look into the matter, it’s worth stopping to consider the role that a medical event might play on the road. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came out with a report (“The Contribution of Medical Conditions to Passenger Vehicle Crashes”). The data showed that while medical emergencies contribute to only about 1.3% of accidents on the road, the drivers are at a greater risk of death or severe injury, as they may completely lose the capacity to control their vehicle.
Drivers vulnerable to these kinds of crashes tend to be older. (In the recent collision on the US 31, the driver was 72-years-old.) Often, the accidents don’t involve other vehicles; it’s more likely that the driver experiencing the medical emergency will be involved in a single-vehicle crash, and in many cases will go off the road before crashing. Compared to drivers in other crashes, those involved in accidents precipitated by medical conditions are more likely to suffer a collision between 6 a.m. and noon.
In the US 31 crash, the 72-year-old driver was transported to the hospital, but thankfully no one else needed hospitalization; police reported that they were all wearing seat belts, which prevented a worse outcome. But under other circumstances, these crashes can result in death or serious injury. What can be done to prevent them?
People need to be well-informed about the side effects of the medications they take, which could include dizziness, drowsiness, seizures, and other medical events that would be hazardous on the road.
People who have certain medical conditions need to work out an effective treatment regimen with their doctors and also be better aware of symptoms signalling a serious medical event, such as hypoglycemic shock, a seizure, a heart attack, or a narcoleptic episode. People should take symptoms seriously and pull over to the side of the road as soon as they can, to see how the symptoms develop and to summon help if necessary.
In general, when faced with a serious health problem or the effects of advancing age, people should consider whether or not driving would be a dangerous activity for them. If possible, they can compromise by driving only with a responsible adult passenger in the vehicle.
When a crash occurs under such circumstances, anyone involved in the accident (and insurance companies) can raise questions about liability. To what extent was such an accident preventable? To what extent was the driver who experience the medical episode responsible?