form asking drivers about mental health
By JEFFREY SIMPSON Staff Reporter
The province has
yanked a new application form for getting a driverís licence because of
concern over questions it asked about the psychiatric history of
"We have withdrawn that form," Jamie Muir, the minister responsible for
Service Nova Scotia, said Wednesday. "Weíll be going back to the old
His department recently changed the application form for people applying
for or renewing a driverís licence to indicate if theyíve ever had a
"psychiatric or psychological condition."
Those who acknowledged that they had at some point in their lives ó
whether it be a bout of depression or ongoing schizophrenia ó were
supposed to give more specific details and then have a doctor complete
an assessment and provide further information about their medical
Mr. Muir said staff at his department failed to check the
appropriateness of the wording before putting the new forms into use.
"Quite frankly, there should have been (consultation)," he said. "I
apologize for that."
The application forms ó old and new ó are reviewed by department staff
and possibly a committee of medical specialists to make recommendations
on somebodyís ability to drive safely.
"Itís not trying to discriminate against anyone," Mr. Muir said.
But mental health advocates believed differently and complained.
The old application form, which will be put back into use, asked if
people had full use of their eyes, ears, hands and feet, had lost
consciousness in the past 10 years or had any other medical conditions
that could affect driving, Mr. Muir said.
Some applicants were confused by that, Mr. Muir said.
"What they had tried to do is clarify for those who were filling out the
form exactly what was asked for," he said of his staff. "So they decided
they would give some examples."
The person in charge of protecting Nova Scotiansí privacy said asking
specifically about a personís mental health history was inappropriate.
"They should not be collecting personal information on this basis," said
Dulcie McCallum, the provinceís freedom of information and protection of
privacy review officer. "Itís completely unnecessary."
That kind of information has historically been used against people, she
"It goes kind of to the heart of things that are most intimate and that
people want most protected," Ms. McCallum said. "You canít make any
assumptions about people. You canít have a policy that automatically
creates a different standard for people.
"Thereís no evidence to support that somehow psychiatric challenges make
you more or less of a bad driver."
It would be more appropriate to ask if people were taking any
prescription medication that could affect their driving, she said.
"That doesnít connect it to any particular illness or disability or
historically disadvantaged group and it may be a bona fide question."
David Fraser, a Halifax lawyer who specializes in privacy law, said the
province deserves credit for acting quickly to fix its error, but he
questioned whether reverting to the old form would solve the problem.
"It sounds to me like an interesting response. Iím not sure if itís to
everybodyís benefit if theyíre going back to a form that had previously
"Many people wouldnít consider a mental health issue a medical
But the province still needs to do a better job of explaining to the
public why it needs certain information, he said.
Michael Deturbide, an associate dean of law at Dalhousie University who
also specializes in privacy law, said the province had been asking for
more information than it needed.
"Health information is considered to be one of the most sensitive forms
of personal information. So only in really the most extreme
circumstances should you have to release it."
Unlike some other provinces, no law in Nova Scotia requires doctors to
report to the Registry of Motor Vehicles if certain patients are unfit
to drive. But physicians are permitted by law to do that and not face
legal action for breaching doctor-patient confidentiality.
The law in New Brunswick directs doctors to inform the Registry of Motor
Vehicles if patients have any medical condition that might affect their
ability to drive safely.
Chrystiane Mallaley, a spokeswoman for the Public Safety Department in
New Brunswick, said a more specific question is also posed for people
applying for a driverís licence in that province.
"The question is, do you have any mental or physical disabilities which
could affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely," she said.
There are two boxes for an applicant to check yes or no and a space to
provide further details, she said.
"Depending on that response, the individual making the application may
need to provide . . . further documentation from their medical doctor if
thereís any question about their ability to operate a motor vehicle."
Doctors in Ontario are also by law supposed to divulge whether their
patients are unfit to be on the roads.
People applying for driverís licences there are also asked if they have
any medical condition or physical disability that may affect their
driving, said Bob Nichols, a provincial spokesman.
If the answer is yes, people are required to indicate the condition and
then must complete another questionnaire to determine whether they can
receive or renew their licence, he said.
( [email protected])
© 2008 The
Halifax Herald Limited