Thursday, 5 February 2015
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, to consider whether a compulsory driving retraining programme should be introduced for those drivers who are unfortunate enough to have lost a limb as a result of an accident or medical complications. This may seem a strange matter to raise but I refer to the wonderful work of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in its efforts to reform and strengthen the pathway to learning and achieving full driving licences for able-bodied citizens. I acknowledge that I am speaking about a very small cohort of the population but they use the road along with all the other drivers.
I know of two constituents, one of whom has completely lost a limb and the other who cannot use his right leg. They both drive specially adapted cars. Can the Minister of State imagine if he had to drive an adapted car with his left leg for the rest of his life and he had permission to drive even though he might never have had to use his left leg to drive? It is a very different experience for the brain to have to use the left leg as opposed to the right leg or to use hand controls in the case of a person with no legs. The driving licence gives such a person full permission to drive. I think the Minister of State will agree that this is madness and that it is completely unsafe both for those who have, unfortunately, lost a limb and for the other drivers they may encounter.
I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. I thank Senator O'Brien for raising this issue. There is universal agreement that safety should be the highest priority in all areas of transport. When it comes to safety on our roads, we have to consider a range of factors which may contribute to - or endanger - the safety of road users. One of the most important factors is the capacity of the driver behind the wheel.
Driver licensing exists to ensure there is a standard of driving which is required of people driving on our roads. Skills and experience are vital. As part of the overall concern which we must have for driver qualifications, we have to recognise that medical factors can and do have an impact on the ability to drive. The legislative framework for medical fitness to drive is set at EU level. Under this framework, drivers are required in certain circumstance to notify the national driver licensing service of particular medical conditions which might impact on their driving. In cases where people who are already licensed to drive, suffer an injury or develop an illness which may impact on their driving, they are required to notify the NDLS, and also their insurance provider. There is also a responsibility on medical professionals to advise patients if an illness or injury will have an impact on their driving. Dangerous driving is a serious offence and it is important that drivers with medical conditions which might impact on their driving are aware of this.
Last year, the Road Safety Authority published a detailed set of guidelines on health and fitness to drive entitled, Medical Fitness to Drive Guidelines. This document is on the RSA's website and it is highly recommended. This document sets out in detail the responsibilities of drivers, health care professionals and the NDLS in relation to health factors and driving. This includes the correct approach in cases of injury.
Current practice requires the health care professional to inform the patient of an impact to his or her driving as a result of a medical or physical condition. Where appropriate - as it would be in the case of a loss of limbs - an assessment will be made as to whether the individual would be fit to drive with certain vehicle modifications, and what modifications would be appropriate. A GP may look for specialist opinion including that of an occupational therapist to be assured that any disability resulting from the loss of a limb or the loss of function can be mitigated so that the person can continue to drive.
In cases where a vehicle modification is required, the NDLS must be notified. There are several codes which can be marked on a licence to indicate the modifications which are required and the appropriate code will be added to the person's licence. The Minister is satisfied that the current is system is working well and that there is no need for the mandatory retesting suggested by the Senator. However, he is willing to retain an open mind and if evidence were to suggest that policy needed to change, he would of course consider it.
I thank the Minister of State and I thank the officials in the Department for taking the trouble to put together a very good reply. I have read the RSA's detailed set of guidelines. However, I ask the Minister of State to convey my concerns to the Minister. Even though I agree with the response, the reality is that a person could this morning drive a modified car. I suggest that instead of retesting these drivers they could be required to take ten lessons. The Irish Wheelchair Association has specialist trainers. I would be a lot happier if such training was mandatory. The rules are somewhat soft because a person could drive straight away. I question the safety aspect.
I will convey the concerns of the Senator to the Minister. I have met many people in my own constituency over the years who have found themselves in this tragic situation. The scheme for the modification of vehicles is helpful. It is important to help bring these people back into the workplace and into society and to help them to continue with their lives. In my personal opinion, I agree with the Senator that safety is the number one priority. We must also consider the individual whose lifestyle has changed as a result of a tragic accident and who has lost a limb. That person may be able to continue working but may need to be able to drive to work. We need a balance of all interests. I agree that there should be a training programme because it should not be possible for a person who has lost a limb to get behind the wheel without some retraining. The Minister has stated that if further legislation is necessary he will consider that option.