Are you fit to drive?

(From left) Jople Mbete from the Department of Transport, Caroline Rule from Rolling Rehab and speakers Eugene Searle and Dr Greg Kew.

In May, Rolling Rehab hosted a two-day workshop on assessing the fitness to drive of people with disabilities. Occupational therapists, doctors, psychologists and a few members of the Department of Transport gathered in Centurion to learn more about the relatively underdeveloped field.

“We can put lives at risk when we allow an unfit driver on the road, but we can also take away someone’s independence,” expert and organiser of the event Caroline Rule said. She argued the importance of having standardised guidelines and better legislation.

“Many wheelchair users drive with expired licenses and there are no learner licences for people with disabilities, so, unfortunately, we need to manipulate the system,” she said. She shared some of her eight-year experience in assessing the fitness of people with disabilities.

Attorney Eugene Searle discussed the legal implications of assessing driver fitness. He spoke about his own challenges and confusion as a wheelchair user who wanted to drive after he didn’t fully recover from Guillain-Barré syndrome more than a decade ago.

“I don’t want to hear that I need to retake the test when I know I can drive,” Searle noted. He cautioned medical practitioners against being negligent, as they may be targeted in case of an accident. Yet, he also urged the practitioners not to be deterred and, to avoid any legal action, he advised them to ask a fellow medical practitioner when they are unsure.

“If you don’t want to sign off a person as fit to drive, it is very likely that the person is not fit to drive,” Searle said. Dr Greg Kew discussed the medical guidelines for testing a patient’s fitness to drive. The workshop gave the medical practitioners the opportunity to share knowledge and network so that they would be able to refer their patient to the correct practitioner.

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