TOUGH CALL: Dr Wayne Herdy says some people do not react calmly or rationally when told they are no longer fit to drive.
TOUGH CALL: Dr Wayne Herdy says some people do not react calmly or rationally when told they are no longer fit to drive. Warren Lynam

Hundreds of impaired drivers on our road thanks to grey area

A LEADING Sunshine Coast health figure has warned that each day in the region there are hundreds of impaired drivers on the roads.

They could be suffering from any number of medical conditions, from bad vision to Alzheimer's.

While doctors are legally required to report certain medical conditions, such as strokes and heart attacks, to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, there is a grey area.

Australian Medical Association of Queensland North Coast representative Dr Wayne Herdy said there were no hard and fast rules for dealing with people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's.

He said no two cases were the same, so doctors had to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

"Alzheimer's is a gradual fading, so it is a question of when that fading out means the person is not safe - but there is no particular timeframe," he said.

"A pretty good marker is when elderly people get lost in familiar territory or on a roundabout."

It is not just people with a medical condition who are the most at risk and dangerous on our roads.

Dr Herdy said men aged between 18 and 25 had the highest rate of crashes and people who drove less than 2000km a year were also at risk.

He said the latter category included elderly people who drove their car only occasionally to go to the shops, and stay-at-home mums who drove only to take their kids to and from school.

"If they are driving that amount or less they are potentially dangerous as they are not familiar with their car and the road," Dr Herdy said.

"They are not maintaining their driving skills."

The Nambour doctor said when it came to medical professionals taking away a patient's licence because of unfitness to drive, there was a level of reluctance because it would reduce the patient's freedom.

"It is incredibly difficult for a GP to tell a patient they are going to take away their independence," Dr Herdy said.

"It is a sensitive issue for the fact that we live in a semi-rural area and public transport is lacking and anyone who doesn't have independent transport isn't able to get to bingo, the shops etc.

"A GP's job is to be responsible for the patient and the community."

Dr Herdy said often patients who had been seeing their doctor for a long time would voluntarily relinquish their licence if that was what the doctor suggested.

But most patients did not react that calmly or rationally.

Family and friends can report their loved one is not fit to drive by contacting the Department of Transport and Main Roads.

When doctors are dealing with patients who believe they are still fit to drive, there is an option for them to undertake a practical driving assessment.

However, the tests are expensive and usually have a long waiting list.

Also, due to the safety risks, there is a shortage of occupational therapists willing to test patients.

Dr Herdy said the last time he checked, there was only one on the Sunshine Coast.

"If a GP thinks a patient is impaired, we can require them to have a practical driving assessment," he said.

"This involves an occupational therapist going in the car for one to two hours with a patient.

"The test costs several hundred dollars.

"There have been occupational therapists that have been killed during this sort of assessment."

Dr Herdy said often just the idea of a patient having to undergo a driving test was reason enough for them to decide to hand over their licence.

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