Assessing a patient's fitness to drive
General Optical Council eBulletin 33
July 2017

Assessing a patient's fitness to drive

There have been a number of fatalities in recent years involving drivers who continued to drive against the advice of their healthcare professional. Some of these cases have involved patients who were advised not to drive by their optometrist and/or dispensing optician due to poor eye sight. This has led to calls from some of the victims’ families to introduce a mandatory requirement on healthcare professionals to automatically notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or the Driver Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland if a patient is unfit to drive.

At the moment, the licence holder has a legal responsibility to notify the DVLA/DVA of any medical condition that may affect safe driving. However, in cases where a patient cannot or will not notify the DVLA/DVA, registrants must consider whether the patient poses a risk to themselves or the wider public by continuing to drive and consider notifying the DVLA/DVA without the consent of the patient.

Standard 11 in our Standards for Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians outlines the obligations that registrants have to protect and safeguard patients and standard 14 outlines their obligations in relation to maintaining patient confidentiality. Registrants should use their professional judgement in applying these standards and balancing their legal and ethical duties of confidentiality with their wider public protection responsibilities.

The DVLA has recently updated its guidance Assessing fitness to drive – a guide for medical professionals. Registrants should make reference to the legal eyesight standards in chapter 6 and be aware that higher medical standards are in place for bus and lorry drivers (group 2) compared to drivers of cars and motorcycles (group 1).

The guidance also outlines the responsibilities of healthcare professionals in terms of explaining to patients the impact of their medical condition on safe driving and of the patient’s legal obligation to notify the DVLA/DVA if they are unfit to drive.

DVLA’s Senior Medical Adviser Dr Wyn Parry,  said, "The guide is designed to help healthcare professionals assessing a patient who has a driving licence and if they have a medical condition that might impact their ability to drive safely. 

"This approach helps to ensure that regular eye tests form a part of everyone’s health care, and contribute to road safety, by ensuring that vision standards for driving are met during the eye test.”

Some registrants have requested more clarity about how to implement our Standards of Practice when considering whether to notify the DVLA without patient consent, if a patient won't or cannot refer themselves. We will be seeking the views of registrants and patients about how the system currently works in practice and any further support the GOC could provide. We plan to consult on this issue later in the year and would welcome registrants’ views.

DVLA’s Assessing fitness to drive – a guide for medical professionals outlines all medical standards, including the vision standards for driving and is available on www.gov.uk for all medical professionals. To read the guidance and sign up for email alerts whenever it is updated, go to www.gov.uk/dvla/fitnesstodrive.

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