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DfT accused of 'burying' report on unfit drivers

Tuesday 4th January 2011

The Guardian has accused the DfT of suppressing a report that suggests thousands of drivers are unfit to be on the road because of failing health and disability.

The study found that doctors, nurses and other health professionals are failing to stop people driving when they are a danger to themselves and other road users. The problem is growing because of the ageing population, the report claims.

Researchers discovered that only one in four motorists with a condition that could affect their fitness to drive had received correct advice from a health worker.

The study, ‘The Attitudes of Health Professionals to Giving Advice on Fitness to Drive’, called for better training of health workers, regular eye tests for all drivers and restricted driving licences for certain medical conditions. The report was submitted in 2008 but appeared on the DfT’s website two years later, with no official publicity, according to the Guardian.

The research project was commissioned by the DfT from a team at Warwick University. The team surveyed medical schools, health workers and drivers with medical conditions and used a range of research techniques including deployment of an actor pretending to be unfit to drive. Only one in five health professionals gave the actor any advice on driving.

Carol Hawley, a psychologist who led the research team, said there was confusion among health workers over who was responsible for telling drivers they should stay off the road. She said: "The typical response we found was, 'Yes, we know it's important, we know somebody should be doing it, but we don't think it should be us'."

She added that leaving the onus on motorists to own up to a serious condition was a recipe for inaction.

The DfT denied suppressing the report. Its spokeswoman said some of the 15 key recommendations had been acted upon as part of a continuing dialogue between the DVLA and leaders of the health professions.

A DVLA spokesperson said: "We have taken steps to address the issues set out in this report to ensure that those working in the health services have the tools they need to provide clear advice on fitness to drive.”

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

Click here to read the DfT study.

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Call me a cynic but the last paragraph of the case study explains why the delay of publication, (Just before and election). This study shows that there needs to be a greater understanding by medical professionals about advising motorists, but the honesty system does not work.
The RTA Act 1960 updated 1972 states that on applying for a licence one must declare fitness to drive. Perhaps we need to start with a full medical as part of the application for a licence. Go two stages further and details kept on the smart licence and updated by doctors and opticians so that there is a record of fitness which can be read by police officers on request. Big Brother!
Seriously there is a panel system that allows people to get a licence back after a temporary suspension but we should consider pressing for doctors to refer patients who appear medically unfit to operate a vehicle to this panel.
Peter Wilson, Westminster City Council

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I strongly believe all drivers should participate in a continual professional development type program from the day we pass our 'L' test. This has been introduced for some professional drivers such as LGV drivers, why not extend this to all, this way we would need to show, on a regular basis, we are competent to drive. Such competency tests are prevalent in many HSE disciplines where dangerous machinery is involved, why should operating a motor vehicle be different?
Jane Sneddon, Nottingham

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Someone who is in their 60's may not have seen a driving examiner for nearly 50 years... Individual responsibility is key but having the right information available to road users about the issues forms the basis of that. Regular eye tests and information on how health issues and prescription drugs can effect the fitness to drive need to be part of that. But also relying on people to give up the car is a little naive so there needs to be a proper system in place to ensure those effected make the right choice.
Dave, Leeds

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It should not be up to doctors, nurses, and "other health professionals" to judge a person's ability to drive. They may well be able to judge that person's fitness, but fitness and ability are separate items. They most certainly may overlap in some areas, especially in vision, which includes the ability to turn the head from side to side, and to be able to press pedals with the required amount for an emergency stop. But in all other instances the ability, and therefore 'fitness' to drive should be left to driving examiners.
Derek, St Albans.

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Devon CC separates out issues relating to older driver safety and the safety of those who may be unfit to drive because of health problems. Although there is a clear history of overlap between advanced age and ill health, the latter is not the sole preserve of the old.

Our Driving Safer for Longer service provides self help opportunities (see http://www.devon.gov.uk/drivingsaferforlonger - including the video package); group workshops and assessed drives.

Our Roadfit service is primarily aimed at GPs who face the responsibility of having to decide if they should recommend ceasing driving but often without the skills needed to make the judgement. Specially trained instructor assessors perform that function and feedback the results.

For those interested descriptions of Driving Safer for Longer and Roadfit can be found on our driver training site www.maxdriver.co.uk

In each case the services are designed to help keep people independently mobile for as long as is safely practical, and then assist them in the transition to alternative modes if that is what's required.
Jeremy Phillips, road safety operations and partnership programme manager, Devon County Council

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Sheffield City Council Road Safety Team ran a campaign at two 'markets' before Christmas, aimed at the road safety problems for elderly people. One of the issues raised was being 'fit' to drive. A DfT leaflet 'Drive On' was given to interviewees. The surprising thing was that many of the people interviewed had given up driving because of health issues. But it was pointed out that the onus of responsibility was left with them, to 'declare' themselves fit.
John D. Wright, Sheffield City Council, Road Safety

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