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Analysis and overview of the guidelines for assessing fitness to drive for commercial and private vehicle drivers

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Guidelines on fitness to drive were released by AUSTROADS and the National Road Transport Commission in September 2003. No recognised legal medical authority was cited. There are three parts in the document: (i) background information, (ii) specific medical conditions and (iii) appendices of relevant documents and contacts. This paper analyses the relevance of the guidelines for physicians and notes that the disclaimer exonerates its authors from potential repercussions. Guidelines for both private and commercial drivers are combined in the document and the basis for such delineation is defined. A lack of universal Australian standards with no State indicating the driver's responsibility to report changes in health standards on the issued licences is confirmed by the guidelines. Not all States indemnify physicians for reporting contrary to patients’ wishes, while South Australia and the Northern Territory mandate reporting those at risk. Much of the language is patronizing, expecting ‘... conciliatory and supportive ...’ behaviour even with recalcitrant patients. No allowance is made for patients who may not fulfil the guidelines but whom the doctor may consider fit to drive. Ambiguity regarding responsibility to report, as identified in the background section, may leave the doctor vulnerable for not reporting a patient who subsequently may cause injury. Attempt is made to differentiate the role of the specialist from the family general practitioner (GP), advocating specialists for commercial drivers, although this is largely left to the discretion of the GP. There is an implied onus on doctors to report all patients with the conditions under review. Some diagnoses, such as syncope, are discussed in different sections with application of conflicting limitations. Inappropriate language, such as reference to a seizure being ‘... an isolated non-epileptiform event ...’, or withdrawal of medications failing to be restricted to anti-epileptic medications confounds interpretation. Some sections, such as that on sleep and epilepsy, are effectively analysed, while illnesses such as dementia are considered superficially. The guidelines are an attempt to assess fitness to drive, but contain serious flaws and provide limited information upon which to base decisions. Ambiguous language complicates application of the guidelines and places the health care professional at risk, despite a disclaimer protecting its authors. (Intern Med J 2005; 35: 364–368)
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Keywords: assessment; commercial licence; driving; guideline; private licence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Australian College of Legal Medicine, Strategic Health Evaluator and Liverpool Hospital, Sydney

Publication date: 2005-06-01

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