How the current system works:
Drivers in Nova Scotia are required to renew their licenses every five years – regardless of age.
At no point, however, are people required to have their vision tested, submit any medical documentation or do any on-road testing to renew their license, unless flagged for a medical reason or due to driving charges, such as impaired or reckless driving.
Instead, the system relies on self-reporting.
If someone has had a change in medical condition, they are legally required to report the change to the RMV. While reporting false information is punishable by a fine, the investigation and enforcement process is essentially non-existent.
There are a few ways someone can be reported to the RMV for medical reasons:
1) A family doctor or psychiatrist who is concerned about a patient’s driving can report the driver to the RMV, outlining medical conditions and his/her recommendations for licensing. The recommendations can range from full suspension to putting conditions on a patient’s driving.
2) An emergency room doctor, similar to a family physician, can report a patient if they have concerns about their driving. Emergency room doctors, however, don’t have as much history with the client and don’t typically provide a lot of detail to the RMV.
3) A police officer can also send a letter to the RMV, but they receive no training for identifying medical issues.
4) A concerned family or community member can report someone to the RMV, but without a history with the driver and enough information the department’s options are limited.
Once a driver is flagged, the Medical Fitness Unit assesses each case individually and will follow up with drivers depending on their specific medical conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Some provinces follow up with patients with diabetes, but Nova Scotia does not due to a lack of resources, said Bob MacAulay, the RMV’s Medical Fitness Coordinator.
The unit has the ability to ask drivers for a medical assessment by their doctor or an additional road test – the same test done to gain a license. The RMV, however, has no limit on the number of times a driver can take and fail the test.
But, getting drivers into the system has been an issue in the past.
According to a 2011 Auditor General’s report, there was a backlog in processing the complaints. In some cases, medically unfit drivers weren’t notified their license was up for review for as long as three months, and medical documentation deadlines were not enforced, leaving medically unfit drivers on the road.
Paul Arsenault, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, said the department was understaffed at the time of the report, and has “rearranged its workflow” to address the issue.
He also said if deadlines for medical documentation are missed, the RMV suspends the person’s license.
The University of King’s College, however, was not able to verify if the backlog was cleared up, or how long it currently takes the department to process complaints.