GP medicals for elderly drivers won't make our roads safer
Dr Merlyn Wilcox describes how his white-knuckle experience demonstrated that GPs simply aren't equipped to check elderly people’s fitness to drive
Years ago, when insurance companies did ask GPs to certify fitness to drive, I was in the habit of doing a standard ‘in surgery medical’ and then, being young and keen, saying ‘OK, now just take me for a spin round the block’.
I did this one day when an elderly man had come through my in surgery testing perfectly fine. We walked out to his car which was parked on a steep slope and I got into the passenger seat.
I should have thought something was not quite right when he started trying to unlock the steering with his house key. He started cursing roundly, then suddenly with the steering lock still engaged, released the handbrake.
We careered backwards down the slope, across a busy main road and came to rest diagonally on the other side of the road, after thankfully not being hit by any of the traffic. I got out of the car in somewhat of a sweat!
I was so concerned that, after discussion with the MDU, I rang the DVLA to voice my concerns.
‘No problem, we shall just ask an independent doctor to do a medical on our behalf.’
And subsequently, another GP did a standard ‘in surgery medical exam’, and pronounced him perfectly fit to drive.
I never did an elderly driver exam again. If elderly drivers are to be tested for fitness to drive, then some sort of practical test will, in my opinion, be essential.
GPs simply do not have the knowledge or skills to do such an assessment, neither do we have dual control vehicles that would make such an exercise safe for all concerned.
Dr Merlyn Wilcox is a GP in Kings Norton