"It's a lot easier to prevent tragedy than to deal with tragedy once it has occurred," said AMA trustee Dr. John H. Armstrong, a trauma surgeon in San Antonio. "This guide is all about preventing the tragedy."
The AMA said the guide was conceived and prepared long before two recent serious crashes involving elderly motorists in California and Florida.
The guide recommends that doctors ask patients if they have difficulty driving. Doctors are told to be alert for things that might hamper driving ability, such as cataracts, arthritis, strokes and certain medications.
Doctors are also reminded to comply with state laws on reporting unfit drivers. Thirteen states have laws requiring some kind of reporting by doctors about patients deemed medically unfit to drive, Armstrong said.
The guide was to be made available on the AMA's Web site starting Wednesday, with a free print version to follow later this year.
It comes a week after a 79-year-old man lost control of his car and injured three people at a farmers market in Flagler Beach, Fla. Earlier this month, 10 people were killed and dozens injured when an 86-year-old man plowed into a farmers market near Los Angeles.
"Per mile driven, older drivers have more crashes," Armstrong said. And with an aging baby boomer population, "we really need to focus on enhancing older driver safety now."
The AMA published its first physicians' guide for determining driving fitness in 1959. It has been updated several times since then. The new guide is the AMA's first online version and is more comprehensive than previous editions, with information on motor-vehicle laws in every state.