People with medical conditions that may affect driving should be warned about their legal obligations, and there is scope for such warnings to be prominently displayed on drivers' licenses, according to a prominent doctor and lawyers writing in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The article, by Neurologist Professor Roy Beran, and Professors of law, Paul Gerber and John Devereux, examines the case of a man with epilepsy who failed to disclose his condition when applying for a drivers licence, and subsequently had a seizure while driving. Three people died.
"The driver, Ross Gillett, had been taking his medication, but suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea which medical experts believe converted nocturnal seizures into daytime seizures," said Professor John Devereux from the University of Queensland's School of Law.
"He was found guilty of dangerous driving occasioning death, with the judge finding that Gillett's driving 'posed an unacceptable level of risk to fellow road users'.
"The trial judge also decided the Austroads fitness to drive
guidelines were not relevant to the case. On appeal, the guilty verdict was upheld, but the appeal court reinstated the relevance of the guidelines when evaluating suitable risk with respect to potentially dangerous drivers."
The report says before the diagnosis of the sleep disorder, expert witnesses would have supported Gillett's application to drive on the basis that his situation was significantly safer than the minimum standard for fitness to drive, outlined in the fitness to drive
"This leaves a number of issues unresolved, including concerns about the utility of the present guidelines and the ethical issue faced by doctors who must balance the needs of people suffering a medical condition which can effect driving, against the interests of other road users," Professor Devereux said.
"A further lesson is that doctors must tell patients about their legal obligation to inform the licensing authority of their condition, and warn them that driving during the period legally prevented by their condition could render them criminally liable."
Notice to this effect might also be considered for inclusion by the driver licensing authority on all future drivers' licences, in the form of a prominent warning.