Doctors should decide who drives

THE State Opposition is calling for changes to national driving laws that require regional road users with certain medical needs to get their licence renewed in Adelaide.

In 2017, there were sweeping changes to the national Assessing Fitness to Drive guidelines, particularly for those drivers with certain medical conditions. For some regional drivers, it means having to find a friend or relative to drive them to Adelaide to undertake a specialist review, rather than visit the local GP who would have their files on record.

The changes have also resulted in potentially long waits for specialist appointments.

This was the case for Balaklava man, Peter Robbins, who has only just got his licence back some 12 months after surrendering it.

Mr Robbins lost consciousness for about four to five seconds while driving on War Memorial Drive on March 17, 2018, sending his car into the yard of a nearby home.

After reporting the incident, he handed over his licence and went through the relevant recovery period.

“My understanding was I had to prove myself fit and competent, medically, to hold a licence, and I had to wait up to six months for that,” Mr Robbins said.

In that time, he had a defibrillator put in, which automatically regulates his heartbeat if required.

Mr Robbins was driven to Adelaide after six months and received a letter from his cardiologist advising of his ability to regain his licence.

The letter was deemed insufficient by the Department of Transport. He then had to return to Adelaide again to get another letter of support from the specialist.

An unexpected family event meant this was delayed and he finally got back to Adelaide on March 5 via the Wakefield Regional Councils’ community bus.

The second letter was again rejected but a follow up phone call at last led to an appropriate letter and Mr Robbins regained his licence.

It was mailed to him on March 18 but as of Monday, the licence had not reached his home.

Mr Robbins supported the revision of the guidelines.

“If I could have seen someone here at the Wakefield Plains Medical Clinic, I’m sure the doctors here could have done the same job, if not better, because they know me,” he said.

“As a pensioner, it’s a rather costly exercise going to Adelaide all the time for a 15-minute appointment.

“If I lived in Port Lincoln, the whole process would have been cost prohibitive.”

Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Eddie Hughes, said it is impacting a number of regional residents.

“While I completely understand that we must ensure all drivers are medically fit to drive, it does seem unreasonable for the appropriate testing and assessment to be carried out in major towns and cities – away from doctors who are familiar with the patient’s medical history,” he said.

“The situation also brings the light the need to have more specialists in the regions.

“Not only have the changes disadvantage people with medical conditions in regional areas, it especially disadvantages people on low incomes who do not have private medical insurance and might have a long wait to see a specialist.

“In many regional communities there is no easy public transport access to the metropolitan area.”