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GPs go forth

GPs, not elderly people, should decide if they're fit to drive

Labour MP Harriet Harman on plans for GPs to certify elderly drivers

Recent tragedies have shown we can’t rely on older people to inform the DVLA themselves if they are not fit to drive.

In 2012 Desreen Brooks was walking in Hampstead with her husband Ben Brooks-Dutton and her 2 year old son Jackson when a driver mounted the pavement and killed her. The driver, aged 82, had mistaken the accelerator for the break and was driving at 54mph in a 20mph zone. He was convicted of causing Desreen’s death by dangerous driving and in sentencing him the judge said “an elderly driver who knows, or should acknowledge, that he or she is losing his or her faculties is no less a danger than a drunken driver who knows the same.”

In 2016 3 year old Poppy-Arabella Clarke was killed and her mother Rachel was seriously injured when they were hit by an older driver as they crossed the road during a red traffic light in Chester Road in Birmingham. At the time the green light was flashing for pedestrians to cross. The driver had been told to stop driving because of his poor eyesight a few weeks before the incident. He was not wearing his glasses and he said he had not seen the red light or the crossing. He admitted causing death by dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

In many cases people may not recognise their symptoms or a gradual deterioration in their health, for example those suffering with dementia.

There are more older people and more drivers than ever so this is not going to be a problem which is just going to go away.

I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chair of the Transport Select Committee asking for them to look into a solution for this problem. One of the things that I’ve proposed is that people over the age of 75 should only be able to renew their licence if they can produce a GP certificate that shows they continue to be fit to drive – and if they don’t produce the certificate then their driving licence would lapse.(If this was the case it would also have the additional advantage of being an incentive for people to take up their free annual health checks when they are over 75).

Of course GPs need to be properly resourced to do their existing work let alone take on any extra responsibilities. But it is important to think about how we can address what is a growing problem.

Harriet Harman is MP for Camberwell and Peckham, and is a former leader of the Opposition and shadow health secretary

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Readers' comments (9)

  • National Hopeless Service

    Opticians do eye checks not GPs. What these people need is a driving test not a GPs best guess whether they have the faculties to drive. Something else to increase our indemnity fees. I am struggling with todays workload and do need any more funded or not. Driving Mobility centres have been around for years who can do these assessments in a true driving environment.

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    Private fee linked service
    like HGV/Taxi medicals
    For those who want to provide this type of service

    From the point of view of a parent .. yes we want the roads to be safer .. so good idea..

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  • not necessarily a problem: one driving assessment appt a week.

    Not allowed to drive until assessed .

    1 hour assessment appts.

    Await chaos

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  • Published medical research in many countries and many disciplines has shown the contention that physician's can adequately judge any individuals 'fitness to drive' to be erroneous.

    What can be examined in a G.P's office cannot translate into a functional assessment of ability to drive.

    This is well documented and verified. Ms. Harman should consult the literature on the issue.

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  • The variation in outcomes depending on the GP seen would be interesting. Opens up a whole new reason for complaints and doctor manipulation.

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  • I will never assess anybody as fit to anything no matter how much money they offer

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  • David Banner

    Amen to above.

    Annual eye and driving tests needed, not a GP assessment.
    As the patient's advocate we are (for once) not "best placed" to make neutral decisions, and that's before you even start on fees , MDO hikes and clinical time. Total non-starter for our own patients.
    Should GPs be mad/keen enough to want to earn fees to do these voluntarily for non-registered patients, then good luck to them, but count me out.

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  • Hey Harriet.
    You are no longer fit to be in Public Service.

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  • I agree with all the comments above.
    1) GPs do not have the time and resources,
    2) it would spoil doctor-patient relationships,
    3) it would increase GP indemnity costs and complaints, with huge adverse effect on workload and service provision
    INSTEAD, could we have compulsory assessments somewhere else, paid for by the driver?
    I actually do fitness assessments for volunteer train drivers, and of course I advise my GP patients if appropriate, but I would not take on this task responsibility for all my car-driving patients!

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