Epilepsy Causes Few Fatal Car Accidents

Alcohol, Driver Error Are Much More Deadly, Says Survey

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Sept. 27, 2004 -- Here's something to be grateful for the next time you buckle up. Of all the hazards on the road, epileptic drivers aren't very likely to cause a fatal wreck.

In the U.S., 86 drivers per year died as a result of crashes caused by seizures from 1995-1997, according to experts at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Overall, about 44,000 U.S. drivers per year were killed in accidents during the same period.

A team of researchers including Soham Sheth, MBBS, MPH, of the neurology department at Johns Hopkins analyzed data compiled from crash victims' death certificates.

Comparing Causes

People with epilepsy had a higher rate of fatal crashes than patients with other medical conditions during the study period.

People with seizures had 2.3 times the rate of fatal driver crashes as people with cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure and 4.6 times the rate for patients with diabetes.

However, most deadly wrecks had nothing to do with any of those health problems.

Instead, alcohol was the biggest problem, accounting for 31% of fatal driver crashes and claiming more than 13,400 lives per year, on average.

"The total number of deaths due to alcohol-related fatal crashes is 6.6 times greater than the number of fatal crashes associated with medical conditions and 156 times greater [than] those associated with seizures," say the researchers.

Young drivers aged 16-24 were at the wheel in 24% of all fatal driver crashes.

"The overwhelming majority of fatal crashes are associated with alcohol abuse and other crash risk factors, such as driver error and driving conditions," say the researchers.

Epilepsy and Driving

Most people with epilepsy died of the same health problems that kill many other Americans, such as heart or lung disease.

All U.S. states limit driving and epilepsy, either requiring someone to be free of seizures for three to 12 months before driving or setting other restrictions.

The researchers found that it made little difference if states used a three-month seizure-free period or a six- to 12-month time frame.

They recommend a more "uniform and reliable" reporting system and a greater emphasis on medical conditions in deciding whether someone with epilepsy should be allowed to drive.

"Fatal driver crashes due to seizures are uncommon," say the researchers. "This finding supports the current public policy of permitting patients whose seizures are controlled to drive."

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Neurology.

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SOURCE: Sheth, S. Neurology, September 2004; vol 63: pp 1002-1007.
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