Driving and your health

Long-term medical conditions, temporary illnesses and the environment can all affect your fitness to drive. In the UK, the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) sets the medical standards for drivers and publishes a list of conditions that must be reported. These include neurological disorders, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, renal disorders and respiratory and sleep disorders, but is too long to be included in this article.

Both drivers and employers can be held responsible for people driving under the influence of reportable long-term health disorders or short-term illnesses.

What happens if you have a reportable health condition?

Your GP or medical specialist will almost certainly tell you that your condition or disability requires that you contact the DVLA - although, ultimately, it's your responsibility to check and take the appropriate steps. After you have contacted the DVLA, they will decide if you can still hold a driving licence. By filling out a medical questionnaire, you will enable the DVLA's medical adviser to make the appropriate decisions - if the adviser needs more information, your doctor or consultant may be contacted, you may be asked to attend an appointment with a medical officer, consultant or specialist, or undergo a driving assessment, eyesight or driving test.

The DVLA aims to make a decision on your fitness to drive within three weeks, but if they require additional information or tests, this may extend to 90 days.

Possible outcomes are:

  • You may continue driving with your current licence, or a new one may be issued
  • If the medical adviser believes you may need a health review sometime in the future, you may be issued with a driving licence for one, two or three years
  • You may be issued with a driving licence that requires you to have special controls fitted to the vehicle you drive
  • You may be told to stop driving until your condition improves

If the DVLA revokes your licence, all is not lost. You will be provided with a medical explanation of the decision. You have the right to appeal to a Magistrates' Court in England and Wales, or a Sheriff Court in Scotland.

How driving can affect your health

Not only can your health affect your driving, but driving can affect your health. For example, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) reported recently that more than 32,000 drivers a month seek help for their back pain; those most likely to need help are mothers on the school run, reps and cab drivers.

People suffering from stress-related disorders may find that driving may make matters worse (RoSPA reports that 85% of motorists find driving stressful). The car and its equipment can also have negative effects on people's health. For example, during pregnancy, women need to understand how to wear a seatbelt correctly.

Older drivers, health issues and driving

The effect of health problems on older drivers and their ability to drive are complex. Because people's physical and mental faculties are not determined by their age, any idea of withdrawing driving licences at a particular age is unrealistic - the UK's approach is to relicense drivers at age 70 and every three years.

The driver self-certifies that they are fit to drive. While it's difficult to draw up generalities, statistics do suggest that the risk of being involved in an accident increase after 70. At 70, and especially after 80, drivers involved in accidents are also more likely to be at fault.

An older driver, of course, is more likely to sustain injuries if involved in an accident. And, in some cases, a driver may die of natural causes while at the wheel; their vehicle often crashes, sometimes involving other road users and pedestrians in the incident.

Yet the issue of health and driving in the later years needs to be looked at from the drivers' point of view, too, according to a paper by RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents). Seeking to restrict older people driving, even on health grounds, can affect their ability to live a full and independent life.

The consequences of these restrictions, argues RoSPA, are more serious for older people than their effect on other road users. Older driving policy, therefore, needs to accurately identify precisely which older drivers and health conditions are a real danger to all road users.

Keeping on the right side of the law

Keeping fit and on top of your health issues will help you keep your driving licence on into your old age. But if you do find yourself diagnosed with a notifiable condition, remember that it is your responsibility to tell DVLA. If you're an employer, you may also have additional responsibilities if any of your employees have health issues that affect their ability to drive.

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a multi award-winning breakdown provider renowned for the quality and value of its services. You can make a breakdown comparison of their services using a calculator on their website.

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