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Am I Fit to Drive?

Am I Fit to Drive?

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You need to be fit to drive, after all you're in charge of a fast moving ton of metal. Motoring journalist, John Swift takes a look at what medical conditions could affect your right to drive.

How does my health affect my ability to drive?

There’s a common misconception that once we’ve passed our test we have a right to drive.

We don’t, we have a licence to drive which is a very different matter altogether and means we can drive only so long as we obey the rules of the road, which include meeting certain physical requirements.

This element is a matter of growing debate among health professionals, road safety lobbyists, the police and some insurers, with many saying they are hugely out of date and need to be much stricter. For the purposes of this article let’s look at what the law currently says are the minimum health standards.

Remember, you’re sitting in a ton or more of metal, which requires you to be able to control it, fully, at all times and if for some reason there’s a risk your body won’t let you then you shouldn’t be in it.

Red Honda Civic driving down the road towards you


How long can I drive without a medical?

There are two categories of licence holders and different medical standards for each.

  • Group 1 is for car drivers or motorbike riders
  • Group 2 for large lorries or public service vehicles, (PSVs,) such as a bus

For Group 1 car licences, these are normally valid until the age of 70. There’s no upper age limit to licensing, but after 70 years of age, renewal is required every three years.

For Group 2, entitlement to drive is valid until the age of 45. Group 2 licences must be renewed every five years or at age 45, whichever is the earlier, until the age of 65 when they are renewed annually without an upper age limit.

Doctor greeting a patient before a medical examination


What are the common health issues which can affect your legal ability to drive?

Eyesight

By and large the assumption is that drivers are healthy and or honest/sufficiently responsible to tell the DVLA of any condition which may affect their ability to drive. Assuming there are no such obvious issues the only part of our health tested before being allowed to drive is eyesight.

The law states that you should be able to read a registration plate from 20 metres (approx. 67 feet) with your prescription glasses or contact lenses if needed. Quite how this seemingly arbitrary distance has been arrived at is somewhat of a mystery, but you can do a self-test at home via an excellent website, www.vutest.com/seedrive/index.htm.

If you want to do it in real-time, then 20 metres is around about the width of eight parking bays or five car lengths.

You must meet this standard before being able to take your driving test, but thereafter might not be tested until you reach 70 (Group 1 driver). Given that you can pass your driving test at the age of 17, which means there are potentially 53 years before you might be tested again in this most basic of driving requirements. Little wonder that some are calling for more regular testing!

As it happens, in July the DVLA launched its EYE 735T public awareness campaign to make drivers more conscious of the need to meet this most basic of requirements.

Person taking an eye test with the machine right in front of their face


Coronary conditions

Perhaps surprisingly, the official guideline says that subject to certain conditions you do not need to tell the DVLA if you have any of the following:

•           heart attack (acute coronary syndrome to include myocardial infarction)

•           coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG)

•           coronary angioplasty (also known as percutaneous coronary intervention)

•           heart valve disease/surgery, or angina

You DO have to tell your GP (assuming they aren’t already in the loop) about any of the above but there is a perhaps surprising amount of leeway. 

Cartoon of man having a heart attack


Neurological conditions

You are far more likely to have your licence removed if you fall into this category, but it depends on each case. Epilepsy is surprisingly common and around one per cent of the population is on a daily drugs regimen to control it, but you’re looking at 12 months off the road if diagnosed.

Strokes or epilepsy fall into the `notifiable’ category which you must tell the DVLA about, but there are plenty of other neuro and mental health conditions in the same bracket too.

Brain labelled with different areas


Restricted limb mobility

Dealt with on a case by case basis, but another notifiable.


There are dozens and dozens of health issues and you can find plenty of advice on the DVLA websites or from your GP. The fundamental approach must be that while losing the mobility and freedom a car brings can be a huge blow to your life, you have a licence, not a right, to drive.


Helpful websites

  • Start here for your guide to the law and your health: www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving.
  • Go here to report any issue to the DVLA: www.gov.uk/report-driving-medical-condition.
  • Can you read a number plate from 20 metres? Log on here to find out: www.vutest.com/seedrive/index.htm

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