Your fitness to drive affects the safety of other road users because your health affects your perception, response time, ability to control the vehicle and ability to judge situations. In March 2012 new medical standards came into effect for all drivers whether in a private or commercial vehicle. This is a substantial document which you can view here if you are a health professional such as an optometrist, physiotherapist or psychologist, as it explains how to assess a person’s fitness to drive. It is the document that your doctor will use if you have a medical issue that might affect your driving.
But if you’re a driver, you need an overview to understand whether you need to see a doctor or specialist.
The main health conditions that can impair your driving
- blackouts and fainting
- cardiovascular (heart) disease
- musculoskeletal conditions
- neurological conditions such as epilepsy, dementia and cognitive impairment due to other causes
- psychiatric conditions
- substance misuse/dependency
- sleep disorders
- vision problems
- age-related decline – changes in motor, cognitive and sensory abilities together with degenerative disease
- temporary injuries such as broken bones
- pain, e.g. post-surgery
- pregnancy (if it causes hypertension or faintness, or is post-caesarian section)
- some multiple conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and paralysis of any part of the body
The above conditions will not necessarily affect your ability to drive; they might just mean you need to see a doctor or specialist more frequently, possibly take medication to mitigate the effects of the condition, or restrict your driving, for example, to during the day only. For some conditions which are likely to worsen such as macular degeneration or dementia, eventually you may not be able to drive, so you will need to regularly see your doctor to get this assessed.
Drivers with epilepsy generally may only use a car if they’ve been seizure-free for a period of one year.
Drivers with monocular vision (sight in only one eye) are not eligible for a permanent unconditional licence and must take a two-yearly review.
The cognitive processes and abilities you need for driving
- visuospatial perception
- attention and concentration
- reaction time
- muscle power
You are legally responsible for letting Roads and Maritime know if you have a long-term or permanent illness that might impair your ability to drive safely. If you have a crash and it’s found that your health was a contributing factor, it could invalidate your insurance, and you might be prosecuted for it.
There are a wide range of temporary conditions that might prevent you from driving for a few hours through to a few months. For example, if you have a local anaesthetic your doctor might advise you not to drive for 12-24 hours (or more), whereas a broken pelvis could mean you can’t drive for several months. In either of these cases you don’t need to notify Roads and Maritime.
You might still be able to carry on driving as long as certain conditions are met, for example you don’t drive at night, or you have to wear glasses. In this case you will get a conditional licence.
The rules for commercial drivers are more strict due to the size of the vehicles, the potential for carrying passengers and the greater amount of time spent on the road. Drivers with epilepsy mustn’t have had a seizure in the previous 10 years. Drivers with monocular vision must have an annual review.