Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Doctors shouldn’t be forced to dob in unfit drivers

Few states mandate that doctors or other health professionals must report unfit drivers to licensing authorities – and for good reason. Driving is an everyday practice for many Australians, but that doesn’t…

Licensing authorities place the onus on drivers to report any medical conditions that might affect their driving. Image from shutterstock.com

Few states mandate that doctors or other health professionals must report unfit drivers to licensing authorities – and for good reason.

Driving is an everyday practice for many Australians, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple task. It takes several years for crash rates among young drivers to decline, and driving performance can be affected at any time by fatigue, distraction and impairment by alcohol or drugs.

Not surprisingly, people with chronic alcohol and drug misuse patterns are over-represented in crashes, and a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions can also affect driving.

On the face of it, it seems obvious that if someone is a danger to the community as a driver because of a medical condition, they should not be allowed to drive. Since the treating doctor is in the best position to know about their condition, they should be legally responsible for reporting.

But such a scheme could lead to patients withholding information from doctors or “doctor-shopping” for physicians who are less inclined to report.

Driver power

In the first instance, all Australian licensing authorities place the onus on drivers themselves to report any medical conditions that might affect their driving.

Doctors and other health professionals play a role in this approach by advising drivers they have a condition that should be reported. Austroads (a peak body for the road authorities in Australia and New Zealand) guidelines for assessing fitness to drive state:

[the] health professional has an ethical obligation, and potentially a legal one, to give clear advice to the patient in cases where an illness or injury may affect safe driving ability.

The reference to potential legal liability concerns the obligation of the health professional to inform the driver, not the licensing authorities.

There are two obvious flaws in this approach. One is that a driver can choose to ignore the advice. This means they have committed an offence, but charging them after they have had a crash misses the point.

Patients can sue doctors for breaches of confidentiality. Exciting Cebu -- Rusty Ferguson

The second is that the health professional is not obliged to report the condition to the licensing authorities, except in South Australia and the Northern Territory. So the driver will not come to the attention of the authorities unless they have a crash or are involved in some other incident.

Mandatory reporting

From an administrative efficiency perspective, mandatory reporting by health professionals has a straightforward logic, so it’s worth exploring why only South Australia and the Northern Territory have such an arrangement.

While the term “health professionals” covers a range of professions, doctors are the key stakeholders.

One of the long-standing principles that guides doctors is the preservation of patient-doctor confidentiality. This principle retains a strong contemporary relevance: if patients avoid telling their doctor about a condition for fear of being reported, they may not be treated appropriately and this could affect other people as well.

The principle of patient-doctor confidentiality does not override all other considerations, however: where the condition of the patient constitutes a high risk to others, reporting to the authorities is justified.

Where driving is concerned, doctors' application of the “public safety” principle still assumes the primary onus is on the driver to report. This is established in both the Austroads guidelines and in the Australian Medical Association’s position paper on the issue.

The Austroads guidelines acknowledge the need for confidentiality, then state that health professionals should “consider reporting directly to the driver licensing authority” under three circumstances:

  • where the driver is not able to understand that their condition makes their driving unsafe
  • where they have a cognitive impairment which means they cannot follow the health professional’s recommendations
  • where they keep driving in spite of the advice and potentially endanger public safety by doing so.

The AMA position paper takes a similar line, but also emphasises that medical professionals are not agents of licensing authorities or the law in general. Medical issues are carefully distinguished from judicial issues and the primacy of patient-doctor relationship is stressed:

It is not appropriate that the treating doctor should be the decision-maker. That role places the doctor in a position of unacceptable ethical conflict, and threatens the therapeutic relationship.

Patients can sue doctors for breaches of confidentiality, so legislation about reporting medical conditions is overwhelmingly focused on providing legal protection for discretionary reporting.

Only South Australia and the Northern Territory have mandatory reporting by certain health professionals. South Australia exempts reporting professionals from criminal and civil liability, whereas the Northern Territory does not.

To my knowledge there has been no assessment of the relative success of mandatory reporting in South Australia and Northern Territory, in particular whether it has had any negative impacts.

A dangerous driver can choose to ignore their doctor’s advice not to drive. Image from shutterstock.com

Evidence-based policy development

From time to time, victims' families claim mandatory reporting would have prevented a crash from occurring and would have saved their loved one. Such cases inevitably generate strong emotions. But while it’s good they lead us to question the systems we have in place, they only tell part of the story.

As we know from the similar issues that arise for older drivers, having mandatory systems and additional administrative requirements does not necessarily translate into greater safety on the road.

In 2011 we conducted research for Queensland’s Older Driver Safety Advisory Committee which considered a range of issues including the role of medical practitioners in assessing fitness to drive. We found that:

drivers of any age suffering medical conditions do not necessarily have a higher crash involvement. Any given condition may affect drivers' “fitness to drive” in different ways and to different degrees.

An important phenomenon is that many older drivers compensate (not always deliberately) for reduced performance by limiting the amount of driving they do and the times and places they do it.

Ultimately, we concluded that medical practitioners must continue to play a significant role in assessing drivers, but they need information to supplement the Austroads guidelines. While driving cessation is one option for a driver whose safety is compromised by a medical condition, there are driving restrictions that can be imposed with similar benefits and without the loss of mobility imposed by licence loss.

We also recommended information and other support for family members in raising the issue of safe driving or licence surrender. All of these approaches have shortcomings, but there is no perfect solution.

Mandatory reporting of medical conditions by health professionals is not a silver bullet, and can have negative consequences as well as raising ethical issues for doctors and other health professionals. Unless we have convincing evidence that the benefits of mandatory reporting outweigh the costs, we would be better off pursuing more supportive, less draconian approaches.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

56 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Eugene DeCruz

    SecularPontiff

    The NSW Government also operates a driving license mandatory reporting scheme requiring a medical report annually for conditions as mild as diabetes.

    The scheme is draconian and symptomatic of a nanny state approach. It is an example of over-regulation at its most bizarre. Your article mentions cases where a medical condition caused an incident. I will bet my bottom dollar that nothing - no amount of medical reporting - would have prevented such incidents.

    Most sensible people with a medical…

    Read more
    1. Eric Glare

      HIV public speaker & advocate

      In reply to Eugene DeCruz

      "..Most sensible people with a medical condition would take appropriate driving precautions"

      As someone who has been asked not to drive, I find this claim extremely naïve - I was asked not to drive for 4 months and I very rarely drove for another year after that (my discretionary driving period). I got rid of my motorbike completely during that time and eventually bought a car, a manual so that if I was crunching the gears I knew to concentrate and to limit what I was doing.

      I was extremely…

      Read more
    2. Elisabeth Hall

      Registered Nurse

      In reply to Eugene DeCruz

      "As mild as diabetes"? I think that's a bit ill informed. There is a distinction between type 1 and type 2, and there are so many different ways they can pose a problem for the sufferer. For example, poorly controlled diabetes cam lead to hypos/hypers, vision loss, loss of consciousness etc. There are a lot of people in the community who are in denial about their illnesses and the impact they have on their ability to be safe drivers.

      report
  2. Peter Fraser

    Director

    Yesterday I saw an old man stagger out of his car and immediately get his walker out of the back seat and shuffled off to the shops. He couldn't even step up a gutter. I wondered how fast his leg reactions would be if he had to quickly switch from accelerator to brake in an emergency.

    I have witnessed an elderly woman who mistook reverse for forward, and brake for accelerator and went screaming (ie tyre screaming) backwards across a parking lot and smacked into a car on the other side. Lucky there weren't any pedestrians in her way.

    The elderly are over represented in deaths and serious injury in motor vehicles, yet there are precious few attempts to make it more difficult to keep their licenses.

    report
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Fraser

      Speaking as an elderly woman who staggers from the car to the shops, I can assure you that I can press the brake when needed and steer correctly and watch out for young hoons and P-platers playing dodge-ems in the traffic. And yes, still keep my cool when middle-aged men speed up, with a steely glint in their eyes, to prevent my turning in to traffic

      I don't know where you got your information from, but my understanding is that it is young males who are 'over-represented' in the traffic accident statistics.

      Peter I hope YOU enjoy your old age! And remember what you said when you were young!

      report
    2. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Eugene DeCruz

      Eugene, unfortunately, there is no evidence that "most sensible people with a medical condition would take appropriate driving precautions". For older people for example, there are people who self-limit their driving to local/short trips, don't drive at night or in heavy traffic etc, but there are others who don't do this.

      The problem with road safety in general is we just don't have the data to know raw figures, percentages etc. on these and many other issues, so we don't have the fuller picture…

      Read more
    3. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn

      As I don't know you, it would be wrong of me to comment on whether or not you are a good / safe driver etc. But just about everyone claims that they are, so I hope you don't mind if I take your claims with a grain of salt.

      But you are correct that young men make up a large percentage of the accident statistics. But their reasons for doing so aren't because they are medically incapable of driving (unless you include an overabundance of testosterone as a medical condition). Unfortunately…

      Read more
    4. Eugene DeCruz

      SecularPontiff

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      I stand by my point - anecdotes and no clear evidence.
      Just because you saw 5 people on the road driving unsafely does not make it a federal case for heavy-handed regulatory intervention and co-option of the medical system for all drivers. How many people do you see every year like this..??

      It is highly likely that they are on drugs or alcohol and the Police have measures for this. Strip habitual offenders of their licence by all means.

      report
    5. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      A middle aged woman ran her big 4WD off the road below my place when I lived in the country. It was the third occurrence that I knew of.

      I went into t police station and told them that she ought have her licence pulled before she killed somebody.

      Their reaction was 'Ho hum'.

      The I said, yes, everybody thinks that they are a good driver. check and you will find that I have been licensed to drive everything from a motor bike to a road train, excepting only public transport vehicles.

      Instant change in demeanor. Said woman lost her licence.

      When people tell me how good a driver they are I ask what have you driven, where have you driven?

      The answer is usually something to the effect of x years driving to work, and holidays in the Snowy.

      Have an eyesight test every ten years, at an opticians. Have a reflex/reaction test at the same time. Have a minimum,regardless of age, don't pass? No licence.

      report
    6. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Eugene DeCruz

      Hi Eugene

      I don't belong to any bureaux or tertiary study or other officialdom, so my records would be considered anecdotal.

      Despite that, I have studied (observationally) on-road behaviour for over forty years, and have had various recommendations for change accepted by the bureaux.

      If you add together evidence from various other sources it does show that there is a serious problem with unsafe behaviour that far exceeds the aggregated stats from crashes, police interventions and technology…

      Read more
    7. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Hi Mike

      "I'm an excellent driver" (Rainman, the movie) is sadly too true. We all make mistakes at times, but of course much unsafe driving is not mistake, but due to intentional and/or habitual risk-taking.

      Unfortunately, other unsafe behaviour comes from medical conditions/disability, and in various cases, related to medications.

      I have known people who stopped driving when advised, others aftera frightening scare (s), while tragically others followed serious crashes, the outcomes of which…

      Read more
    8. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Thanks Peter

      I think the point I made in passing is probably the most pertinent one from my perspective.

      Sooner or later - unless we drop dead beforehand - we are all going to reach a point where we should or can no longer drive. We all have to face up to that fact - and as you said, it would be much better if that didn't come as a result of a serious accident.

      report
    9. Peter Fraser

      Director

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn,

      I am getting older - most of my friends are already retired.

      The facts are that, after the 18 - 24 age group, the 70+ group is the next highest fatality group in motor vehicle accidents and well above the 10% of the population they represent.

      report
    10. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Thanks Mike

      Sadly for some older people (eg rural) , giving up driving means forced relocation away from people and places they have known for many decades.

      That doesn't change the pertinancy of your point, but "the system" needs to have vastly improved approaches to the related issues of driving safety and transport alternatives to driving.

      But while their is so much resistance from the public (read as voter backlash), we will continue wobbling along the same old way, leaving too many at risk and too many others as transport disadvantaged- with related social and other disadvantage

      report
    11. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I supposed that an accident free record would be sufficient evidence?

      My last accident was a run-in with hail stones. The one before that with a seriously deep pot hole. And the one before that with a young man who 'forgot' to put on his handbrake but had parked uphill from my parked car.

      And yes, I suppose I DO consider an overabundance of testosterone as a 'medical condition'. It is certainly considered that in dogs, anyway -- veterinary medicine.

      It is every mother's nightmare when her teenage son first gets his Drivers Licence :-( The thought of a daughter coming home pregnant is nowhere near as much worry as the thought of her son killing himself or some innocent other person :-(

      report
    12. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      You are right of course -- many people live long enough to become unsafe on the roads. However both of my parents reached the age where they needed a medical/doctor's certificate to say that they were safe on he roads. Both did annual driving tests in their last few driving years.

      Unfortunately middle-aged men with insecurity problems don't need annual checks, doctor's certificates or psychological evaluations.

      report
    13. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      " Will I want to stop driving if I become unable to drive safely - of course not."

      Why not?

      I'm sorry but I have no desire to either kill myself on the roads or, worse. kill anyone else.

      report
    14. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Good question Evelyn.

      In reverse order, neither do I want to kill myself or anyone else.

      My reasons for not wanting to give up driving are both emotional and practical. Loss of control, choice and the elusive "freedom". Having to give up the great flexibility and convenience of a car - coupled to loss of easy access to health and social needs and wants.
      And to be honest, car travel is "lazy" travel - the car waits for you to decide when and where you want to go - public transport takes a bit more discipline and planning and you have to meet their schedules. I'd need to transition away from decades of lazy travel. to

      report
    15. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Oops, sorry, meant to add - but for those important life saving reasons you mention - I will give it up when it's time - and I hope I will know when it's time, or that a person I trust will tell me.

      Years ago the RTA in NSW had a practice of taking older drivers for a test, then harshly telling those who failed to leave the car and find their own way home - the message delivered in a way that would make Basil Fawlty look good. Some RTA almost made an art form of rudeness (only equalled by NSW Railways staff- and I have case studies of both!.

      I believe and hope the various authorities have become more compassionate in their approaches, but we still need to develop more holistic, fair and reasonable approaches towards these issues.

      report
    16. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      "....I supposed that an accident free record would be sufficient evidence?...."

      Nope.

      ".....Unfortunately middle-aged men with insecurity problems don't need annual checks, doctor's certificates or psychological evaluations...."

      I don't NEED one, but I believe it is important to do the right thing by the community so I get one anyway.

      report
    17. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Hi Evelyn

      Just in case you are still following this conversation (I gave up about 10.45 pm last night), I want to offer the following comment.

      You mentioned above about accident (crash) free record.

      Along with the general tendency to over-estimate their own abilities, over the 40+ years of researching safety issues, I have found that many people have a "crash-free memory" rather than record.

      But even a crash-free record does not mean you are anywhere near safe enough.

      As a relevant…

      Read more
    18. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Oh well. I suppose then I am just a very very lucky driver!

      I think that I would remember 'accidents' or crashes, but maybe I am completely ga-ga and living in La-la-land.

      There is one characteristic of elderly drivers that might contribute to traffic collisions. Elderly drivers tend to me more cautious. We don’t try to push our way onto small gaps in the traffic, we tend to drive under the speed limit. This CAN make younger impatient drivers angry and therefore more likely therefore to…

      Read more
    19. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      I agree. I would hate to be unable to drive. I don't want to be unable of unsafe to drive.

      And come the time when I must give up driving we will need to move back closer to civilisation :-)

      report
    20. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Japanese are working on a super, little one man chopper. When I can no longer drive n the road safely, I intend to have one!
      (I wish!)

      report
    21. Elisabeth Hall

      Registered Nurse

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      I agree with your thoughts Evelyn. We hear these 'elderly people should be tested often/made to stop driving/don't know what's good for them' discussions over and over. Many older people are just fine to drive. However, I would like to know who among these 'younger' people are willing to replace the older people's independence by giving them lifts everywhere or organising and paying for taxis?

      report
    22. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Hi Evelyn.

      When you said about incidents proving nothing, to an extent you are correct. And you are correct about younger drivers, not just elderly being involved in incidents.

      One morning years ago, I anticipated that a truck was going to fail to give way at a T-junction (by his speed and general braking ability of trucks ) - he didn't stop but by then I was stopped and safe, as was my wife who was passenger with me.

      I phoned the truck drivers manager and said - if he just made a once…

      Read more
    23. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Hi again Evelyn

      That need to move when you give up driving is why in parallel with much greater support for safety of older drivers, we need vastly improved transport alternatives to private car use for an ageing population.

      And for many older and other people with disabilities, the mass transit or other conventional public transport will not be adequate.

      I want you (and me) to be able to ride our mobility scooters along a nice pathway, onto a bus or train at whoop whoop, then reverse that at the other end so we can visit rellies, see the doctor, go to a concert etc. It shouldnt' cost as much public money as just the $20 billion for two planned freeways.

      We just all have to acknowledge that we may not be the ones using those lovely freeways in our later years.

      And we need to knock on a great many political doors to get that message across as well.

      Thus endeth the sermon! (I am pretty passionate about all this, I reckong you can see that).

      cheers again

      report
    24. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn, Peter is correct in that statement. I think it's when older drivers crash stats are adjusted for the actual kilometres they travel, not in raw numbers (That's from memory- I think it was a study by Shenahan) - it's in my files but they are like a dog's breakfast.

      cheers

      report
    25. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Elisabeth Hall

      hi Elisabeth.

      Many older people are just fine to drive, but numerous ones aren't - and which individuals that involves can change by tomorrow due to illness etc. Depending on what happens after an illness, the situation can change (I think transitory would cover that but my mental vocabulary is in temporary muddle).

      Sadly many older- perhaps "very old" people are really struggling to drive safely on the roads. And many still overestimate their abilities/competence, just like drivers of all ages.

      We urgently need better supports to help older drivers stay driving safely, and for those who can't we need vastly better transport alternatives - and part of that could be younger people assisting.

      As I have said elsewhere, it's cruel to let people continue driving when they really aren't safe, and until as does happen, they crash and a spouse or friend who was passenger is killed - or some other road user . That's not a compassionate society.

      report
  3. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    ‘where they keep driving in spite of the advice and potentially endanger public safety by doing so.’

    How does the Doctor Know?

    All conditions, that could seriously impair driving ought have to be reported regardless of the age of the patient..
    An aged woman I know has cataracts, and cannot see well. To my suggestion that she have her cataracts done she responded: they report it and they rip your licence off you’.

    Pointing out that I have had both eyes done, that I see better than I…

    Read more
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Lucky Lucky you!

      I had one eye done (I was told I needed it! :-( And my eyesight is now worse.
      (Though they dare to tell me I now have 20/20 vision! Good Heaven's! Is THAT what they call good?)

      I am alarmed now that most people seem to go around with such POOR vision

      report
    2. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn: It is all in who have do the procedure. the placing of the 'implant' is super critical, so I am told.
      Anyway I had one eye done, with a multi focal lense after much argument,
      I had walked around
      Bondi Junction spotting arials and wires between buildings, and used the as a basis for comparison, and against the other eye. It took a year to settle in completely.
      Three years later, the other eye. Got a brand new, first off the rank, multi focal form the same outfit, and it took 24 hours to settled!

      I do not use glasses at all.

      report
    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      I know. I know!

      But I don't think I'd get much joy from suing the surgeon who "put in the wrong lens". ("But it's a good outcome anyway" according to HIM :-(

      I do get joy out of thinking of fire-bombing his practice though.

      report
  4. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Your argument is the same one the Catholic church used

    If we report them to the police they won't confined in us and it may never come to light

    weak sauce

    report
    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Michael Shand

      The Catholic church has enough difficulty just trying to get folk to 'confide' in them nowadays, so I think they'd be pushing their luck somewhat trying to get folk to 'confined' in them instead, even when everyone is confidently situated within the confines of a confessional.

      report
    2. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Although, as terrible as organised religion is - the Pope deserves massive props for his speech on income inequality

      For the first time in a while an influential religious figure is doing something worthwhile

      report
  5. Stephen H

    In a contemplative fashion...

    If not doctors, then who?

    I know of a young person who should never have been allowed to drive. This individual was encouraged by a family that wanted them to have freedom and didn't consider the risks. Encouraged by a school that helped them pass a written test the individual could never have passed alone. Encouraged by a driving instruction system that let them try and try again until they got that tick in each box.

    The person does not have the capacity to understand what to do in an emergency, and yet is permitted to drive a deadly machine. Where was someone with the responsibility to say "No!"?

    report
  6. Allan Gardiner

    Dr

    I've noticed that many folk nowadays refer to road crashes as being 'accidents'. There's no proof that any of these crashes are in fact 'accidents'. When one reads or hears about what actually occurred well before and just prior to these crashes occurring then the term 'design' comes to mind far stronger than the term 'accident'. If any of these crashes should be perceived as being 'accidents , then it's highly likely that some -- if not many -- of them are just 'accidents' waiting to happen.

    There's a program on television tonight [Channel 7?] apparently about a driver who's been caught deliberately staging 'accidents'..err..'designs' purely for insurance payouts. He seems to have now developed a natural b_ent'erprise for it.

    report
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      "I've noticed that many folk nowadays refer to road crashes as being 'accidents'. There's no proof that any of these crashes are in fact 'accidents'."

      So Dr Gardiner, you think that most traffic collisions are intentional?

      Sure some people might stage 'accidents' to cover up some previous damage, some people actually commit suicide by running their cars into trees. Some people in fits of road rage might ram another car. But that doesn't make this behaviour 'common'.

      Or do you mean most traffic collisions are *avoidable*? In which case I would agree with you -- and certainly "accidents waiting to happen" but accidents never-the-less.

      report
  7. Martyn Robinson

    Seafarers Chaplain at Mission to Seafarers Wallaroo Seafarers Centre

    Very emotive issue methinks. The right to drive is taken; the ability to drive safely...well? Let's start with a disclosure - I'm 70. I want to converse about driving ability. When I got a driving licence at aged 15 I was tested as to ability. SInce then the only test I have had to take was when I applied for a higher grade licence. When I obtained a pilot's licence at 22 I was required to show my ability every 6 months of 12 months depending on the licence category. My vote is for mandatory testing…

    Read more
    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Martyn Robinson

      Even pilots make some grave errors, like the experienced Korean airline captain who had his young son on board showing him how to fly. This pilot completely overlooked the fact that the autopilot was engaged [perhaps the kid flicked it on again] as he persistently tried to operate the aircraft from the control column but with the autopilot countering his every move until the aircraft finally crashed. And Air New Zealand's Flight 901 crash on Mt Erebus [1977] is a classic example of exactly how unforgiveable errors and assumptions can stack up one after another to catch the unwary.

      Travel by submarine is still considered to be far safer than that by aircraft because reliable statistics show that there's far more aircraft in the ocean than submarines in the sky.

      report
    2. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Martyn Robinson

      all good points martyn - and with such a complex topic there are no easy or fix-it-all answers.

      re airspace versus road-space, a pivotal problem problem is that there is no culture of reporting of incidents in road-use, and not much expectations even amongst professional drivers.

      Without that, we are unable to accurately assess overall numbers, trends and system issues.

      Also, we know that Japan's Shinkansen has not had one death or even serious injury in moving over 9 billion passengers since 1964. Compare that to Pacific Highway and near 600 deaths over a ten year period (with many more times serious injuries, higher numbers again of other crashes, and undoubtably countless dangerous incidents). It means we have a serious safety problem in road-use that includes system failures, not just driver error.

      If we are going to support "us" ageing population members to stay safer while driving, we need a holistic strategy.

      report
    3. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Allan, not trying to nitpick, but both those air crashes were as much about system failures as they were about human error. But certainly the results were no less tragic, and safety systems have to try and mitigate against the errors of humans, not compound them.

      Unfortunately, the flexibility and convenience of road-use goes hand-in-hand with higher risk than the best air and rail systems, just as it chews up massive tracts of land.

      Along with that current safety approaches (there is no system as such), are still fundamentally incomplete, inadequate and flawed in a number of ways.

      Error prone humans in a flawed non-system, is a poor combination.

      report
    4. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Peter

      A big difference between air and road accidents is the level of detail which goes into an air crash investigation (and I worked in this area for a short time), including acting on recommendations to reduce future instances.

      Perhaps if we investigated road crashes - particularly fatal crashes - in a little more depth we might reduce their likelihood in the future. Oh - and pilots are required to undergo regular medical checks and flight checks to confirm their suitability to hold a license. Something that drivers think they should be immune from.

      report
    5. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Thanks Mike, you are spot on.

      A serious incident (non-crash) in air or rail warrants mandatory reporting and detailed and lengthy investigation from ATSB, with report and recommendations.

      When two b-doubles run off the road to avoid a reckless car driver, with huge potential for human and property damage, mostly the truck drivers grimace and get on with their job. It skews the data, and misses opportunities for change etc.

      It's pretty tragic when crashes involving people driving as part…

      Read more
  8. Eric Glare

    HIV public speaker & advocate

    Re"..a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions can also affect driving"

    Psychiatric conditions are medical conditions. It is stigma that makes a difference.

    report
  9. charles davies

    Quizzical Observer

    There are only three classes of driver.
    (1) Maniacs - drive faster than me.
    (2) Idiots - drive slower than me.
    (3) Myself.
    When I drive my car the roads are filled with maniacs , but , strangely , they all seem to stay at home when I ride my motorcycle , and the idiots fill the gaps that they leave.
    Basically, if the government were to pay me to drive or ride, I could eliminate either the maniacs or idiots from the roads , whilst I was on duty of course.

    report
    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to charles davies

      A very interesting observation I made many years ago (when I was younger and more accident prone :-) is that one's experience on the road in traffic is very much influenced by the car you are driving.

      We had three cars, a 1964 VW Beetle, a Ford Falcon Stationwagon and a Toyota Celica.

      When driving the VW (my heart car) people were incredible rude, I'd be cut off in traffic, tail-gated and overtaken where I would need to brake to allow the overtaker back into the line of traffic.

      With the…

      Read more
    2. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Interesting observations Evelyn. I doubt there's any formal research on that, but the negative attitude by other drivers towards "old men in hats" seems to have a basis in fact.
      And most definately older men in hats, in Volvos, driving slowly on "my road" is problem with some other drivers.

      Sample of one only, but I worked with someone who wouldn't tell a another worker that they had left lights on, because it was a Volvo!

      I suspect it's more often a mix of older people in older, smaller cars driving slower and more cautiously that gets up others noses in a society where people are so often in a hurry -at least in their own mind.

      However, despite the emphasis on younger drivers on hooning, speeding, a % of older drivers do have their own driving idosyncracies, such as forming non-existent side lanes while driving through towns. Add in other impatient or innatentive driver and perhaps a large truck and an errant pedestrian and the combination can be very dangerous.

      report
  10. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Is there any good reason why a test system based upon simulators could not be instituted?

    Using actual vehicle cabins — I am sure that the manufacturers would be ‘happy’ to provided these —
    then the engineers and software bods get in and program the driving /handling specs of each type of vehicle into a unit that handles, steers, brakes, skids, slides, rolls, just like the real thing.

    Have realistic traffic around them, trucks roaring past, mix it up.

    Then maps, with actual streetscapes…

    Read more
    1. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Peter there'd been decades of debate on what type of driver (and rider) training and education (there are differences between those two) and testing will actually make a difference. I am happy to be proven wrong with an update, but my understanding is that there is still no clear answers or consensus on this.

      Also, a lot of thought from researchers/the bureaux (traffic authorities etc) is that the problems are more related to how you drive, not so much how you can driver - with more emphasis…

      Read more
    2. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Peter: I do not know of any studies, nor do I claim to know how to teach all people to drive.

      I learned with an unbelievable amount of extraordinarily good luck!

      Having driven all types of vehicle, motor bike to road train, in all terrains, all conditions, and a few countries I know what people who cannot drive are not doing.

      ‘ is that the problems are more related to how you drive, not so much how you can driver - with more emphasis on attitudes, distraction, attention rather than "vehicle…

      Read more
    3. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Yes, I learnt about blind spots in rear vison mirrors, not from the authorities who should have taught me, but from the driver who blasted his horn when I was changing lanes on the good old "coathanger" crossing Sydney Harbour, Feb 1973. Lester Morris, motorcycling journalist noted he had the same lack of training.

      Unfortunately research shows that too many people who are involved in an incident or crash do not change their driving/riding in ways that will actually mitigate the risks in a similar…

      Read more