Doctors report relatively few medically impaired drivers to police
New rule yields 500 - 600 reports since autumn
Finnish doctors have submitted relatively few reports to police concerning the diminished driving abilities of their patients. Under a law that came into effect in September last year, doctors are required to inform police about patients whose illnesses would make them a potential traffic hazard behind the wheel of a car.
The Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior estimates that since the law came into effect, between 500 and 600 such reports have been submitted in the whole country.
For instance, in the Lahti region about 50 driving licences have been cancelled on the basis of the new law, and in the Kuopio area, about 30 licences have been revoked.
Heikki Seppä of the Interior Ministry says that exact figures are not available for the whole country. However, in the Helsinki region between 10 and 15 reports of hazardous drivers have been coming every month.
Seppä says that he would have expected more reports, but adds that he understands the difficulties doctors face when evaluating the impact of illnesses that might affect the patient's driving ability.
"The legislative change was necessary for the monitoring of traffic safety and driving health, but many issues require the skills of a specialist doctor. The starting point for making a report is always that the deterioration of the patient's health is not temporary.
Pertti Tuhkanen of the Kuopio police deals with issues related to revoking driving licences in the area. He says that there have been very few reports from doctors.
"The number of reports is very small, but this does not differ from the situation in other countries, where doctors are obliged to report diminished driving ability. Apparently the doctor-patient relationship is seen to be equally sacred everywhere."
When Parliament first debated the law, representatives of the Finnish Medical Association, together with Members of Parliament who are doctors by training, strongly opposed the proposed changes.
Doctors feel that instead of an "obligation", they should have the "right" to report permanently impaired drivers to the police.
"When the proposed legislation was under preparation, talk was still about giving doctors the right to inform police, but the Parliamentary Transport and Communications Committee turned it into a silly obligation to report", says Juhani Juntunen, chairman of the Traffic Medicine Association.
Juntunen feels that the law has failed, and should be reconsidered.
"The obligation for a doctor to report impairment has not worked in any country", he says.