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March 27, 1995

Perceived and Actual Risks of Driving in Patients With Arrhythmia Control Devices

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Cardiology, Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Camden (Drs Beauregard, Russo, and Waxman). Mr Barnard is an attorney in private practice in Suffern, NY.

Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(6):609-613. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430060071008

Background:  We surveyed patient attitudes about driving and about driving restrictions for patients with automatic defibrillators and pacemakers, and we assessed risk of arrhythmias occurring during driving.

Methods:  One hundred two patients responded to a questionnaire (57 patients with defibrillators and 45 patients with pacemakers) about driving habits and opinions on restriction of patients who have devices and want to drive. In addition, the literature was reviewed for approximate incidences of sudden death and syncopal or nonsyncopal device therapy to estimate risk while driving of having a defibrillator discharge.

Results:  Thirty-two patients with defibrillators (56%) and 28 patients with pacemakers (62%) currently drove an average of 196 and 161 km/wk, respectively. Most patients felt that driving was a right and 75% felt that restriction imposed a hardship on them. Respondents felt that common sense, limited distances, or physician input should set driving limitations. A minority felt that no restrictions should be placed on these drivers or that they should not drive at all. The risks of sudden death and syncopal and nonsyncopal defibrillator discharge were estimated at 0.0009%, 0.0011%, and 0.0015% per kilometer driven, respectively, based on weekly kilometers and published occurrences of these phenomena.

Conclusions:  Patients perceive that driving is their right and that there is a low risk of an arrhythmic event behind the wheel. The estimated risk and published accounts of sudden death support this. However, concurrent medical problems and stresses imposed by driving may increase risk. The physician must make reasonable recommendations to ensure patient and public safety, keeping in mind both state and federal driving regulations and reporting requirements.(Arch Intern Med. 1995;155:609-613)