Fitness to drive: don’t hide a medical condition

Drivers could be fined a maximum of £1,000 and prosecuted if they are involved in a crash for failing to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about any medical condition they have been diagnosed with.

Furthermore, a failure to disclose a notifiable medical condition, or eyesight failing to meet the minimum standard of being able to read a number plate from 20 metres, could invalidate any insurance claim.

Health conditions have the potential to impair driving in a range of different ways and it is the responsibility of a driver to inform the DVLA – Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland – of any such medical condition which may affect their ability to drive safely.

A person’s fitness to drive was thrown into sharp focus as a result of the Glasgow bin lorry crash in December 2014 in which six people died and a further 15 people were injured. During the resulting legal action and inquiry, it was revealed that driver Harry Clarke repeatedly lied about his fitness to drive to retain jobs and his licence.

It is the responsibility of doctors to advise patients that medical conditions and drugs may affect their ability to drive and for which conditions patients should inform the DVLA/DVA. As a result, the licensing authorities require drivers to surrender their licence voluntarily when they have been advised not to drive.

Employers should pay close attention to reports about the health of employees who drive for a living and in the wake of the bin lorry crash, a litigation expert at leading law firm Pinsent Masons said on the organisation’s website: “Information suggesting that a driver, or potential driver – as this will extend beyond those who drive for a living to most or at least many employees who may drive at some point in their duties – may be unfit or at risk could come to light in many ways, such as following an incident, in the course of routine health checks, when investigating absence. It may also arise when considering what reference to give, or what references to ask for; and how to follow up information included there.

“This will require careful consideration in light of existing rules, patient confidentiality and the expertise – or otherwise – of those likely to get the information. The one thing which cannot safely be done is to ignore the issue.”

The DVLA website lists almost 200 medical conditions in alphabetical order for which drivers may need to notify –

The most common types of medical conditions suffered by drivers in England and Wales are: Heart conditions, strokes or mini strokes, diabetes, physical disability, brain condition or severe head injury, visual impairment and epilepsy.

Analysis by Direct Line Car Insurance revealed that in 2015 an estimated 3.4 million drivers in England and Wales failed to disclose relevant medical conditions to the DVLA.

The DVLA says that drivers must give up their licence if:

  • A doctor advises a patient to stop driving for three months or more
  • People do not meet the required standards for driving because of a medical condition.

There are different forms for different conditions and disabilities that need to be completed to notify the DVLA, all are available on the organisation’s website.

Having informed the DVLA, it will make a decision within six weeks and might contact a driver’s doctor/consultant; arrange for an examination; ask for a driver to take a driving assessment, or an eyesight or driving test. People, said the DVLA, can “usually keep driving”, while the notification was being considered.

The DVLA will assess the medical condition or disability and decide if: A new driving licence is required; a shorter driving licence for one, two, three or five years should be issued; a vehicle needs to be adapted with special controls; a person needs to stop driving and give up their licence. In the latter case a driver will be given a medical reason why they must stop driving and be told if and when they can reapply for a licence.

Drivers do have the right of appeal if they disagree with the DVLA’s decision and must check with their doctor that they are fit to drive before reapplying for their licence, if it was taken away because of a medical condition.

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