Drivers in the early stages of dementia could pose a very real risk to the public and, under the current legislation, many dementia sufferers who should not be allowed to drive, but are allowed to do, are “slipping through the net”. That is the view of Derbyshire GP Dr Peter Holden who called for a review on the issue at the British Medical Association’s annual conference.
Citing that the current legislation and guidance are outdated, Dr Holden called for a change to the one-dimensional system which relies too heavily on specific diagnoses or on specific impairment of the senses. He also pointed out that doctors are increasingly seeing older patients who are driving by rote.
He said: “They stop driving at night, then on motorways, then they go to great lengths not to do right turns. But we all know there are times when we need quick reflexes when driving. It is a complex task that requires good psycho-motor skills.”
Currently, from age 70 and onwards, elderly people must self-declare whether they are fit to drive every three years.
Andrew White, medical advisor to the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency, told the BBC: “It’s important to strike the right balance between safety and personal mobility. All drivers must ensure that they are medically fit to drive and notify DVLA of the onset or worsening of a medical condition affecting this.”
George McNamara, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said such calls to overhaul the system would lead to “scaremongering”. He said: “A dementia diagnosis is not in itself a reason to stop driving. The critical issue, both legally and practically, is whether an individual is able to drive safely.”