Importance of medical fitness to drive
While driving is a vital and necessary skill for many people, the ability to drive may be affected by your medical condition (or potential medical condition). It is crucial that if you have a diagnosed medical condition, or have concerns regarding your general health, you see your doctor for a medical assessment to further examine your driving capacity. In NSW, every driver has a legal responsibility to inform the RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) of any medical condition or disability that could potentially impact on their ability to drive safely. If you are unsure about how your medical condition may affect your driving, or your ability to learn how to drive (for new/learner drivers), you should see your doctor. As it is important to ensure that drivers are medically fit and safe to drive, there is a clear process in NSW that needs to be followed. This involves the completion of a RMS medical fitness to drive from.
When to see your doctor
As a general rule, your doctor has the authority to make decisions regarding your fitness to drive. If you have a newly diagnosed medical condition, or if you have concerns that an existing condition may be worsening (and affecting your driving), you need to discuss this with your doctor. Similarly, if you have no established medical condition but you have concerns regarding your health, you should see your doctor.
What happens when you see your doctor?
It is crucial to be honest and as accurate as possible when discussing your health with your doctor. Depending on your current situation, your doctor may perform a general physical health assessment. If you have no diagnosed medical condition but there are concerns about a potential health condition, your doctor may also recommend further medical investigations and assessments appropriate for your situation, such as blood tests, x-rays or other radiological tests. The aim of the tests is to clarify any medical condition. While waiting for the results of the tests, your doctor will instruct you about whether you should be driving in the meantime. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist if appropriate. If the doctor is unsure about whether you should continue to drive (and assesses that a medical condition is likely), they may recommend that you undertake and Occupational Therapy (OT) driving assessment. Your doctor should then complete the RMS medical fitness to drive form to inform the RMS of these medical concerns potentially affecting your driving capacity.
If you have an existing medical condition or disability and feel that driving is becoming more difficult, your doctor will perform appropriate medical assessments. Your doctor may instruct you to have an OT driving assessment and fill out the RMS fitness to drive form. If you are a new driver (i.e. learner driver) with a diagnosed health condition, your doctor will determine if your condition is currently affecting your driving capacity. If the doctor is unsure about the effects of your condition on your driving, they will complete the RMS medical fitness to drive form and direct you to have an OT driving assessment.
The RMS medical fitness to drive form
The purpose of the RMS medical fitness to drive form is to advise the RMS of a driver’s medical condition or disability that may potentially impact on their driving skills. Having a medical condition does not mean that a person cannot drive, but it is important that the RMS is aware of any significant medical issue that could affect your driving. Your doctor has the authority and responsibility to inform the RMS of any medical condition that might alter your driving capacity. Essentially, the RMS medical fitness to drive form performs two imperative functions:
- It notifies the RMS of the details of your medical condition and general health
- It indicates to the RMS whether your medical condition is currently affecting your driving
Once your doctor has further examined how your medical condition is influencing your driving, they will send the form to the RMS, where they will indicate one of three options:
- Your medical condition is not affecting driving (you can drive as normal)
- Your medical condition is affecting your driving and you are medically unfit to drive. Your licence will be cancelled.
- It is unclear at this stage if your medical condition is impacting your driving. You are required to have an OT driving assessment to make this determination.
The OT driving assessment
If your doctor cannot make a complete determination about your fitness to drive, they will instruct you to have an OT driving assessment. This is because your doctor does not actually witness you driving. The driving assessment is conducted by a specialised Driver Trained OT and is comprised of an off-road and on-road assessment.
Drivers 75 years and older are required to have yearly medical assessments/reviews to continue to drive. This applies regardless of whether you have a medical condition. Annual reviews are needed for older drivers as although age is not a medical condition, it is common for people to start to have physical and/or cognitive decline or issues as they get older. If any medical issues or concerns are identified in your annual review, your doctor will follow the process as outlined above.