Hypoglycemic driving a concern, Ontario watchdog says

Ontario's government watchdog has launched an investigation into how the province monitors drivers with uncontrolled hypoglycemia.
Ontario Ombudsman André Marin says drivers with uncontrolled hypoglycemia may be a systemic problem affecting everybody's road safety. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario's government watchdog has launched an investigation into how the province monitors drivers with uncontrolled hypoglycemia.

"Our investigation will determine whether processes in place are adequate to protect public safety," Ontario Ombudsman André Marin said in a news release Tuesday.

The case was brought forward by family members of victims who died in 2009 when a driver in diabetic shock crashed and killed three people in Hamilton. Allan Maki was found guilty of dangerous driving in December 2011.

The emergency room physician filed a report with the Ministry of Transportation shortly after the crash, identifying Maki's hypoglycemia as a reason to suspend his licence.  

Under the Highway Traffic Act, doctors are required to report people with a medical condition that may make it dangerous to drive.

The Hamilton Police also reported Maki to the ministry, but it was almost two years after the crash before his licence was finally suspended, the ombudsman said.

'A potentially systemic problem' 

Marin said that case raises questions about how the Ministry of Transportation obtains information about drivers and whether it takes action when necessary.

"I am launching this investigation because this is a potentially systemic problem that could affect the safety of everyone who uses our roads," he said.

The ombudsman's office said some studies show 25 per cent of people with diabetes have "hypoglycemic unawareness" — an inability to recognize low blood sugar and potential impairment.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include sweating, nausea, trembling, headaches and blurred vision. In severe cases, it can cause seizures and comas.

"Although most drivers who have diabetes are perfectly safe, the condition of uncontrolled hypoglycemia was deemed serious enough that Ontario and other provinces made it a reportable condition," Marin said. "But if that requirement doesn't result in appropriate action by the Ministry, it is meaningless."

The investigation is expected to take about six months. Anyone who has had experience with the issue is asked to call the ombudsman at 1-800-263-1830.