A fatal bin lorry crash in Glasgow in December 2014 has brought the requirement for Doctor’s to report health conditions to the forefront.
The Fatal Accident Enquiry (FAI), which commenced in Scotland on the 22nd July and is expected to last up to 5 weeks, has heard evidence from Doctors who examined the driver prior to this tragic incident. Reports suggest that the driver, Mr Clarke, suffered a blackout in 2010 whilst employed as a driver with First Bus. Further allegations have been made in relation to Mr Clarke suffering fainting and dizziness. A doctor employed by First Bus stated that if was aware of Mr Clarke’s medical condition he would have advised Mr Clarke that he was unfit to drive and reported him to the DVLA. A drivers medical history can be disclosed to the DVLA at any point if a Doctor believes a medical condition may affect their ability to drive safely. The disclosure of such information can result in your driving licence being revoked. The consequences can be considerable, particularly for those drivers who rely on their driving licence for employment. If your licence has been revoked it can involve a lengthy process to have your licence returned.
The General Medical Council do provide guidance on how a Doctor should approach the subject with their patients. One of the recommendations is that prior to advising the DVLA that the driver has certain medical condition, the Doctor should allow the patient the opportunity of obtaining a second medical opinion. This appears to be a fair process that allows a Doctor to raise their concerns and then to provide the patient with the opportunity to challenge the decision.
However, should the burden of notifying the DVLA be on medical practitioners or should the burden be on the driver? And should the consequences for failing to notify be considered as so serious that it should result in a severe punishment? You may feel that the trust has broken down with your Doctor, however if they informed you that they had an obligation to report you should you fail to notify the DVLA yourself would you feel less aggrieved as a patient?
s92. of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provides requirements for the fitness of a driver. There is also a requirement in s94 that should the drivers medical condition change they must notify the DVLA failure to do so will result in a the driver committing an offence. Interestingly within the Magistrates Court sentencing guidelines there is no guidance for this type of offence. Therefore in light of this catastrophic incident, which saw the loss of six lives, surely now is the time for a review of the requirements and consequences for failing to notify the DVLA.
Should the onus of reporting a medical condition to the DVLA now be on the individual? It must be possible to introduce a process whereby a patient is advised by their doctor that they must contact the DVLA to report their medical condition and make the driver aware of the severe consequences should they fail to do so. Controls could be in place should the driver fail to notify the DVLA in a set timeframe. This would take the burden away from medical practitioners and could restore the confidence that what patients tell their doctor is private and confidential.
We need to wait for the conclusion of the FAI in Scotland to see if any recommendations are made or if they are critical of the failure to inform the DVLA of the driver’s medical condition. We will assess the judgement after it is released to consider the future implications for drivers and / or doctors.