By Kathy Gough
Senior claims manager, Avant Mutual Group Limited
Avant regularly assists health professionals responding to patient complaints made in relation to the assessment and reporting to authorities of a patient’s fitness to drive.
It is Avant’s experience that complaints bodies are very supportive of health professionals who, through clinical evidence and opinion, seek to restrict or remove a patient’s ability to obtain a drivers licence due to a health condition.
Health professionals may face situations in which a patient’s injury or illness would affect their driving ability yet the patient is reluctant to report the condition to the licensing authority.
In all states there is a positive duty on a licensed driver to inform the licensing authority of certain conditions, illnesses or injuries that affect their ability to drive.
If your patient fails to report the condition and continues to drive despite your efforts to convince them to act responsibly, as a treating health professional you will need to consider whether you have a duty to inform the relevant authority of the patient’s problem.
You would need to consider all the facts and whether, in your view, it would be in the public interest or to the public benefit to disclose the illness or injury, notwithstanding your duty to maintain the patient’s confidentiality. Each matter will turn on its own facts.
The Austroads booklet Assessing Fitness to Drive for Commercial and Private Vehicle Drivers provides guidelines for health professionals, which are approved by all Australian driver licensing authorities. The current edition was published in March 2012.
Part 5 of the guidelines deals with the assessment and reporting process, and includes a decision process for assessing fitness to drive.
Obtain a copy of the guidelines from the Austroads website or free of charge to relevant health professionals from Austroads, Level 9 Robell House, 287 Elizabeth Street, Sydney NSW 2000.
If you do decide to inform the licensing authority, the relevant state or territory legislation will protect your action. It provides, among other things, that an individual does not incur civil or criminal liability for reporting to the authority, in good faith, information that discloses or suggests that another person is or may be unfit to drive or that it may be dangerous to allow another person to hold, to be issued or to have renewed, a drivers licence or variation of a drivers licence.
The South Australian and Northern Territory legislation impose a positive duty to disclose a patient’s condition when it affects the patient’s ability to drive and puts the public at risk. In Queensland, the indemnity provided includes cover for any disciplinary action that may arise out of the disclosure of information.
If you have difficulty deciding whether to report a patient’s illness or injury, seek legal advice or make contact with the relevant driver licensing authority. Driver licensing contact numbers for health professional matters for each state and territory are listed at the back of the Austroads booklet.
Disclaimer: The information in this publication is general information relating to legal and/or clinical issues within Australia (unless otherwise stated). It is not intended to be legal advice and should not be considered as a substitute for obtaining personal legal or other professional advice or proper clinical decision-making having regard to the particular circumstances of the situation. While we endeavour to ensure that documents are as current as possible at the time of preparation, we take no responsibility for matters arising from changed circumstances or information or material which may have become available subsequently. Avant Mutual Group Limited and its subsidiaries will not be liable for any loss or damage, however caused (including through negligence) that may be directly or indirectly suffered by you or anyone else in connection with the use of information provided in this forum.
Avant provides professional indemnity insurance for members of Optometry Australia