Special Report: Danger in the Driver's Seat - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Special Report: Danger in the Driver's Seat

Daniele Spear suffered a seizure while driving. She doesn't remember how she ended up in a parking lot. Daniele Spear suffered a seizure while driving. She doesn't remember how she ended up in a parking lot.

Seizures, blackouts or maybe even a heart attack, you probably know someone who suffers from one of these conditions. But did you know that everyday many of them are getting behind the wheel and taking a chance on an attack happening while they're driving?

It's a scary thought, and it could be fatal. We decided to look at the medical emergencies happening behind the wheel and how often they're putting you at risk.

The SUV behind the big rig is weaving. The erratic driving continues for about 20 minutes   before the SUV crosses the median and crashes into an 18-wheeler. The driver of the SUV was killed, and according to the police report, he suffered a medical condition while driving. It happened recently on a road in Alabama.

According to the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, accidents involving medical emergencies are rare but they remain a growing concern.  The report examined crashes nationwide for nearly two years that happened between 6 a.m. and 12p.m.

Twenty year old Daniele Spear suffered a seizure while driving. She was heading home after dinner with friends in Prattville. Within minutes she felt disoriented and began to lose control.    Before she knew it she blacked out and somehow ended up about a mile away in a nearby parking lot. She had no clue how it happened.

"God blessed me. He and everybody I could have taken out. I mean it was a miracle that I made it from La Cintas to where I got too. I don't even know how I got there," she explained.

Daniele had her first seizure at 13-years-old. She takes medication and she thought the seizures were under control. Although, she walked away from the accident with few injuries it's what could of happened that scares authorities.  

In 2011 the Department of Public Safety determined 508 crashes in Alabama involved some type of driver illness. Those crashes resulted in 336 injuries and 13 fatalities. Sgt. Steven Jarrett with the Alabama Department of Public Safety says those drivers can be a hazard on the road. 

"If they're a hazard behind the wheel, they're not just a hazard to themselves but they're also a hazard to everyone else on the roadway including me and you and our loved ones," Jarrett said.

Seizures are the most frequently reported medical condition among drivers in crashes. They're followed by blackouts, diabetic reactions, heart attacks and strokes.

The National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey estimates 85 percent of drivers involved in medical emergency crashes use some sort of medication on a regular basis and more than 60 percent involved a single vehicle crash.  The report also suggests 74 percent of drivers were aware of their medical condition associated with a crash before they got behind the wheel. 

Dr. John Moorehouse with Baptist Hospital says some drivers disregard a doctor's orders. "People tend to be non-compliant and not follow directions," he admits.

The Department of Safety relies on a Medical Advisory Board to help process individuals with medical conditions. If you're medical condition contributes to an accident and you knowingly drive, you're license could be suspended. You could also be subjected to periodic follow-ups by authorities. This would require paperwork that's completed by your doctor.

Daniele hopes to drive again, but the privilege comes with stipulations. Her doctor must first give her the all clear and the State of Alabama will have to weigh-in on whether her medical condition could put others in danger once she's back behind the wheel.

It's hard to determine if someone is suffering a medical condition behind the wheel. If the car swerves and runs off the road, obviously something is wrong. So, it's up to you to be a defensive driver, keeping your eyes open for any erratic behavior from other drivers.

If you feel you're suffering a medical condition while driving, take doctors' advice and pull over. Then call 911.

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