Every year, approximately 1000 people lose their lives on Australian roads (source: National Road Safety). As Australians travel every day, it can be easy to take road safety for granted which is why driver medicals are so essential. It is crucial to think about not only one’s personal behaviour when on the road but also about being a responsible owner of a vehicle. In most motor vehicle accidents, the incident was preventable and people could have taken measures like a driver medical to avoid the accident. Therefore, it is important that everyone on the road considers what they can do to ensure not only their safety but the welfare of all road users. This includes not just other motorists, but also pedestrians and wildlife that is common on Australian roads. Having a medical driving assessment is the best way to prevent accidents to occur while operating a vehicle.
Below is a list of some things you can do to ensure that you are keeping safe on Australian Roads:

1. Stay healthy

This may seem obvious, but research indicates that Australians do not really consider their own well-being before getting behind the wheel which is why it’s crucial to get a driver medical. It is common for people to operate their car when they are tired, and many accidents are due to fatigue or people falling asleep whilst riding a vehicle. If you are feeling tired, yawning, or have tired eyes, consider having a rest before going out. It is also worth considering taking regular breaks and ensuring you are staying well-nourished and hydrated, particularly on longer trips. Where possible, it is also beneficial to have more than one person behind the wheel on longer road trips, to share responsibility behind the wheel all around.
On a more broad note, you can also ensure that you are in generally good health. This means trying to stay healthy and leading a healthy lifestyle, as well as getting regular check-ups with your GP for a driver medical (once every 1-2 years). If you have any existing health-related conditions, you may already be getting annual medical driving assessments. Taking the time to see your GP regularly increases the chance of a health-related condition or problem being identified early. Common health-related issues that will come up during your driver medical and that are related to road accidents include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Heart problems
  • Sight/vision problems
  • Cognitive impairment issues

Having yourself checked up with a driver medical regularly ensures your general health and well-being.

2. Driver medical

A driver medical is also known as occupational therapy (OT) medical driving assessment. In NSW, this is the process that determines whether a person’s health-related condition or disability is affecting their vehicle operation skills. It is also not common knowledge that when a person has a health-related condition that potentially affects their capability to operate a vehicle, it is the individual’s responsibility to inform the RMS. This applies when a diagnosis is confirmed, but also if there is no formal diagnosis but there is a concern or potential health-related issue. If you are worried about your health, or if you are concerned that your existing diagnosis is worsening, make an appointment to see your GP as soon as you can. Your GP is generally the first step in appraising if a health-related issue may impact your ability to operate a vehicle. Usually, you will then be referred for a driver medical where an OT will observe your maneuvering. A practical medical driving assessment is the best way to gauge if your health condition is affecting your ability to ride a car, and to ensure that you are still riding your car safely.

Sometimes, people may be worried that their family member or loved one’s health is failing to the point where their vehicle operation is becoming affected. A common example of this is when an elderly person begins to show signs of cognitive decline. Family members may notice that the older person is becoming increasingly forgetful, gets lost more easily, or shows behavioural changes that they are concerned about. In such instances, it is important to help the person see their doctor and get a driver medical so these worries can be further investigated. This is crucial not only for the older person but also for all road users. However, when a person who has been on the road for most of their life is faced with the possibility that they may be starting to lose this ability, it is often very difficult to accept. Navigating through the possibility that a health issue may be infringing on someone’s vehicle operation skills requires careful discussion involving the person, their family, and doctor.

3. Brush up on road rules and ride safely

Once vehicle operators secure their licence and receive their medical driving assessment, it can be easy to forget that road rules can change. We often no longer take the time to learn about any changes to traffic laws or rules. For example, in recent years, new laws regarding the use of mobile phones whilst on the road have come into effect across NSW. It is important for motorists to keep up-to-date with any changes so that they utilise the road safely and legally. The NSW government also has the Road User Handbook available on its website to encourage people to keep informed about the latest road rules in the state.
Of course, staying informed about road rules is only half of the equation – it is just as crucial to follow the rules of the road just as it is to get a driver medical. This means that motorists must adhere to speed limits and avoid engaging in behaviours that increase the risk of accidents such as speeding and other dangerous behaviours. This also includes not getting behind a wheel when under the influence of drugs or alcohol and ensuring that you have an alternate option to get home when planning to consume alcohol. Often, this means organising a designated person within your group or utilising taxis or Uber services when not you are not suitable to operate a vehicle.