“Sometimes people find it difficult just getting in or out of a vehicle but want to adapt because they see driving as their independence,” says chief executive officer of Pain Australia, Carol Bennett.
She says there are many strategies and devices drivers with chronic pain can use to keep themselves safe and comfortable behind the wheel, including talking to health professionals.
However, new RACV research into Australian drivers suffering chronic pain has found health professionals need clearer guidelines on treating the issue to help motorists manage their pain.
Researchers interviewed 17 Australian health professionals and found they wanted specific training to better assess the subjective nature of pain and its effect on driving ability.
Researchers also conducted an online survey of 90 motorists, half suffering chronic pain and the rest being pain free, to assess the impact of pain on driving. They interviewed 23 drivers about their experience with chronic pain.
RACV’s senior policy adviser on safety, Elvira Lazar, says this study is the first in Australia to seek strategies to improve safe driving among individuals with chronic pain.
She says the research shows motorists with chronic pain have difficulty with prolonged driving which can impact their daily lives.
“The pain is often exacerbated after prolonged driving and there is an urgent need for better guidance to take the guesswork out of the best way to manage chronic pain in relation to driving,” she says.
Sometimes people find it difficult just getting in or out of a vehicle but want to adapt because they see driving as their independence.
The RACV research will form part of RACV’s submission to the National Transport Commission (NTC) review into its national Assessing Fitness to Drive guidelines. The guidelines, which are used by state authorities including VicRoads to assess a person’s ability to drive, do not currently address chronic pain.
The NTC is seeking input from the medical community, patient representative bodies, industry, public health and transport agencies on its review.
Pain Australia says chronic pain comes in many forms. It can be persistent migraines, arthritis or back pain, or debilitating pain after surgery. Sufferers may have multiple other health issues.
“Chronic pain is often an invisible condition,” says Carol Bennett. “But although the disability can’t be seen in the form of a broken limb, the condition is so common that one in five GP consultations deal with some form of chronic pain.”
She says sufferers can help themselves through such self-management techniques as exercise and using driving aids like reversing cameras or lane-assist technology to minimise the need to turn their head.
“Be practical; if you have back pain, use a lumbar support cushion, sit forward to reach the pedals and hold the steering wheel so it’s comfortable.”