Medical assessment of elderly driver

The findings in the Inquest into the death of Ruth Capps (Queensland) are of interest as the Coroner’s focus included a medical clearance provided by a medical practitioner, which resulted in reinstatement of Ms Capps  licence about a week before her death. The medical practitioner had not seen Ms Capps for some 7 years before the time of the assessment / certificate and apparently made no attempt to obtain her medical records from elsewhere (see [77]).

The Coroner made various recommendations in relation to driver testing. In relation to the medical practitioner at [120] – [121]:

The role of medical practitioners in assessing a person’s fitness to drive and issuing a Medical Certificate for Motor Vehicle Driver is crucial to ensuring the safety of all roadway users. The Guidelines clearly establish the medical standards for licensing and provide comprehensive and consistent procedures for medical practitioners to follow when assessing a patient’s fitness to drive. It is imperative that these Guidelines are followed by all medical practitioners when undertaking such an assessment, to ensure uniformity and sufficient consideration of all relevant factors. The Medical Certificate for Motor Vehicle Driver (Form 3712) clearly states that an assessment is to be undertaken in accordance with the Guidelines.

It is fundamental that a medical practitioner conducting an assessment of a patient’s fitness to drive has a thorough and complete understanding of that patient’s medical history and the guideline requirements for undertaking such an assessment.

In relation to the role of the particular medical practitioner, the Coroner said at [133]:

During the inquest, (the doctor) did not demonstrate any insight into his conduct and failings. He maintained, despite significant evidence to the contrary, that had he been aware of Ms Capps’ recent medical history, and the findings of the Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment, he would still have signed the Medical Certificate for Motor Vehicle Driver form attesting to Ms Capps’ fitness to drive. This statement demonstrates either a serious lack of judgment by (the doctor) or a high degree of arrogance on his part, or both. I have considered referring (the doctor) to the Medical Board, however I hold out reasonable hope that he will reflect on these sorry circumstances and behave differently in future.

With thanks to Associate Professor Tina Cockburn to noting this decision, which was also reported by Barry Nilsson Lawyers.

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