Fitness to Drive research reveals alarming statistics

Moving Well | Megan Whitfield  | Posted on 15 July 2019

Majority of drivers confused about fitness to drive assessments, study finds.

Many drivers are unaware of the wide range of medical conditions that must be reported to VicRoads under fitness to drive conditions, new RACV research has found. 

While 83 per cent of those surveyed recognised there is a legal requirement to report any serious, long term or permanent medical conditions that could impact their driving, many were surprised that conditions such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes requiring medication or insulin had to be reported.   

RACV’s Australia-first research examined the experiences of 253 drivers who had been through VicRoads’ Fitness to Drive medical review process. The findings revealed a lack of clarity about the process and common misconceptions that VicRoads is “out to get” drivers and that undertaking a Fitness to Drive review meant they would automatically lose their licence. 

Lady driving a car

Many drivers are unaware of the wide range of medical conditions that must be reported to VicRoads. 

RACV’s manager for Safety and Education Elvira Lazar says this mistrust was largely misplaced as the aim of the review process is to make sure people are safe to drive and that steps are taken to manage medical conditions that impact driving in the long-term. “VicRoads is not wanting to catch people out, they are interested in making sure people are safe to drive for as long as possible,” says Elvira. “Once a condition is reported, everything is assessed on a case-by-case basis for each individual to ensure a correct assessment is made.”  

 VicRoads figures show there were about 90,000 driver files reviewed through medical review process in 2017/18.” Of these, around 85 per cent can continue driving with no further follow up, or have a condition added to their licence, such as only driving during daylight hours. 

In most instances, drivers can be assessed by their own doctor, who will submit a report to VicRoads. 

 Elvira says it’s a misconception that most people going through the review process will lose their licence. Of the drivers that RACV surveyed, 49 per cent were able to retain their licence and continue driving, while a further 29 per cent could continue driving under certain conditions, such as wearing glasses or driving only in local areas, with some requiring further assessment.  

Elvira says that while it can be challenging to start a conversation with loved ones about them reducing driving or going through the medical review process, it is important to have that discussion. She says, where possible it’s best to allow the driver to play a main role in decisions around their driving, particularly with elderly relatives, by taking a gradual approach to reducing driving. “It’s better to plan ahead, rather than risking having to suddenly change routine in the case of injury or illness.” 

Fitness to drive is an issue not just for older drivers, particularly when it comes to conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes. 

Former AFL player Jack Fitzpatrick, 28, was diagnosed with diabetes (requiring insulin) when he was 21, prompting a Fitness to Drive assessment.  

Jack’s overall fitness and commitment to controlling his diabetes meant he is confident about going through medical review, however he says he understands why people can be apprehensive.  “It can feel like someone is coming down on you for something you can’t control,” says Jack.  

However, his overall experience has been positive, and – as for many participants – resulted in no changes to his licence.  

“The reality is you need to control your diabetes, even for your general health. [With fitness to drive], it’s not about taking people off the roads, it’s about ensuring the roads are safe.” 

He encourages others to have their fitness to drive checked as required, and to recognise they’re not being targeted personally. 

A condition of being licensed
to drive is the requirement to advise VicRoads of any serious, permanent or long-term illness, disability, medical condition or injury that may impair your ability to drive safely.

These conditions are not age restricted, and can include:

- Blackouts
- Cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes (requiring treatment with medication or insulin)
- Musculoskeletal conditions
- Sleep disorders
- Psychiatric conditions
- Neurological conditions such as epilepsy, dementia and cognitive impairment due to other causes
- Substance misuse/dependency
- Vision problems.

Other medical conditions or combinations of conditions may also be relevant, so a degree of professional judgement is required in assessing fitness to drive.