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Drivers (Medical Standards)

Volume 80: debated on Friday 14 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he proposes to introduce medical standards reflecting the recommendations made by his Advisory Committee on Medical Standards for heavy goods vehicle and public service vehicle licensing; what significant changes in medical standards he proposes to make; whether compensation will be available to those whose employment is terminated through the loss of their driving licence arising from failure to meet higher medical standards; and if he will make a statement.

The working party on this subject was set up in June 1977 because there was concern both within and outside the Department over the effectiveness of current procedures and inconsistent application of standards at several stages in the licensing process. Its report, which was published in September 1983, basically endorsed the standards recommended by the medical profession but proposed changes in procedures. The Department received comments on these proposals from a number of organisations and has held discussions with some of these.In reaching conclusions on the proposals, the Government have also taken into account the fact that the study and subsequent debate have increased awareness of the recommended standards and greatly improved the way in which existing arrangements are operated by doctors and by the licensing authorities in the traffic areas. Revised licence application and medical report forms are proving much more effective in identifying cases requiring medical investigation.In these circumstances I am not proposing regulations, as was advocated by the working party, to extend the list of conditions which would bar the grant of a vocational (heavy goods or public service vehicle) driver's licence. There are no plans to alter the present procedure under which it is for the applicant to obtain and submit a medical report when this is required. Nor will there be a specialist panel to give advice on appeals against decisions taken by the licensing authorities on medical grounds.

There is a need for continuing advice on policy in relation to the conditions which are most often responsible for collapse at the wheel. A panel, now chaired by Dr. Christopher Earl, has for many years advised on diseases of the nervous system as they affect driving. My right hon. Friend has appointed two similar honorary advisory panels, one chaired by Professor Michael Oliver to advise on cardio-vascular conditions, and the other chaired by Dr. David Pyke to advise on diabetes.

The Government accept- the recommendations that the duration of heavy goods vehicle drivers' licences should be five years, as for public service vehicle drivers, and that the driving test to establish a licence-holder's continued fitness after developing a limb disability should be free of charge: the necessary parliamentary legislation will be introduced at the next opportunity. When it comes into effect, the age after which heavy goods vehicle drivers have to submit a fresh medical report on renewal will come down from 60 to 46, as it now is for public service vehicle drivers.

I share the concern expressed to me by organisations representing both sides of the road transport industry, and by others, about the position of those who have to give up vocational driving in mid-career for medical reasons. This is not a new problem, but it occurs more widely to the extent that medical standards designed to protect road-users from the consequences of collapse at the wheel are being more effectively applied. It may be that the provisions of insurance schemes which exist in the industry can be improved in this direction, and be more generally adopted. But such issues will need to be dealt with through the normal employer-employee procedures.