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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Driver Licences And Medical Conditions


When a person applies for or renews a driver licence in Australia, they must notify the licensing authority of any medical condition that is likely to adversely affect their ability to drive safely. After a licence is issued or renewed, the driver must also notify the authority if they develop such a condition, or if an existing condition worsens. The Assessing Fitness to Drive guide, published by Austroads and the National Transport Commission, provides standards approved by state and territory transport authorities.

Medical conditions

The most common medical conditions likely to affect driving ability include:

  • blackouts;
  • cardiovascular conditions;
  • diabetes;
  • hearing loss and deafness;
  • musculoskeletal conditions;
  • neurological conditions, such as dementia and epilepsy;
  • psychiatric conditions;
  • sleep disorders;
  • substance misuse/dependency;
  • vision and eye disorders.

These may affect a driver’s sensory, cognitive or motor functions, or a combination of these. The impairments can be permanent or episodic, so assessments must be based on observations and measures and/or risk analysis. There may also be multiple conditions which can make an assessment complex.

Temporary conditions

If a condition is temporary, a driver does not have to notify a licensing authority unless the condition becomes long-term or permanent. Such temporary conditions include impairment after anaesthesia or surgery, pregnancy, short-term vision impairments and deep vein thrombosis.

Progressive conditions

Progressive conditions such as multiple sclerosis and dementia require future restrictions on driving to be considered as part of management of the condition.

Congenital conditions

People who have congenital conditions such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida may be granted a conditional licence that identifies specific vehicle modifications that enable safe driving.

Assessments

A health professional such as a GP can assess a person’s medical fitness to drive. There are 2 medical standards: private vehicle driver standard and commercial vehicle standard. For some medical conditions, a specialist assessment is required, and a GP will provide a referral. While waiting for a specialist appointment, a person may be allowed to drive if the GP believes the medical condition is not likely to lead to a severe or sudden incapacity, or loss of concentration, before the appointment.

Health professionals’ responsibilities

The health professional has a responsibility to advise the person about the impact of their medical condition on their driving ability, and that the person should report their condition to a licensing authority if the condition affects their ability to drive safely.

Because the relationship between patient and health professional is confidential, a health professional will not usually communicate with a licensing authority. However, in South Australia and the Northern Territory, the law requires the health professional to report directly to the licensing authority if they believe the person is physically or mentally unfit to drive. In the other states and territory, health professionals can report directly to a licensing authority, without legal liability, if they believe a person is:

  • unable to appreciate the impact of their condition;
  • unable to accept recommendations due to cognitive impairment;
  • continuing to drive against repeated medical advice and is endangering the public.

Practical driver assessments

A practical driver assessment may also be required. This is different to a routine driver competency test conducted by licensing authorities. A practical driver assessment is conducted by an occupational therapist or approved assessor at the applicant’s expense. It is designed to assess the impact of injury, illness or ageing on a person’s driving skills such as judgment, decision making and vehicle handling. It may also determine the need for any vehicle modifications to accommodate the person’s impairment. An assessment can be carried out in many ways, including on road, off road or in a driving simulator.

Drivers aged over 75

Most states and territories require a medical assessment for all licence classes at age 75 and annually thereafter. In South Australia, the relevant age is 70, while in the Northern Territory, there is no age at which a medical assessment becomes mandatory.

Other driver categories

There are also specific rules for driving instructors, and for drivers of dangerous-goods vehicles, heavy vehicles and public passenger vehicles. These rules require regular vision tests or medical assessments, generally every 3 or 5 years. There is also a requirement for Basic or Advanced Fatigue Management under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme.

Conditional licences

If a person has a long-term or progressive condition or injury that affects their driving ability, they can be granted a conditional licence that allows them independence while protecting the public. The conditions may relate to the need for medical treatments or vehicle modifications, or place restrictions on driving. They may also specify a review period, after which the person must submit to a review to establish the state of their condition and their continued fitness to drive.

Appeals

A person can appeal a decision to cancel or suspend their licence on medical grounds. The court can allow the appeal, disallow the appeal (meaning the decision stands), or vary the decision (for example, by granting a conditional licence).

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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