Too sick to drive?

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If you’re temporarily unwell, the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor about driving. The last thing you need is to crash your car.

If you’re not 100 per cent, chances are you’ll take a sickie from study or work, cancel that weekend hiking trip or take a rain check on your big date.

But being sick can also be a big problem if you’re planning to drive.

If you’re temporarily unwell, the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor about driving. If you’re under the weather, the last thing you need is to crash your car.

You also need to know that if you suffer from certain health conditions – or develop one – then you might need to let Roads and Maritime Services know about it. See section on 'When to report your condition' mentioned below, for more information.

Legal drugs

Heaps of medicines prescribed by a doctor – and some you can pick up without a prescription – can make it unsafe to drive. These are drugs that can affect your concentration, mood, coordination and reaction times at the wheel.

Never get behind the wheel if you’re taking a medicine with a warning label that tells you not to drive.

These medicines include some pain killers and some of the drugs for blood pressure, nausea, allergies, inflammations and even fungal infections.

Obviously tranquillisers, sedatives and sleeping pills can be a serious problem, but so can some diet pills and cold and flu medicines.

To make sure you don’t get caught out follow these tips:

  • Read the label and any other info provided with your medicine.
  • Never drive if you’re taking a medicine that can affect your driving skills.
  • Never take someone else’s prescription medication – you don’t know how it will affect you.
  • Ask your doctor or chemist about driving after using your medication.

Temporary conditions

Many temporary conditions will prevent you from driving. For example, following an anaesthetic your doctor may advise you not to drive for 24 hours or more.

Obviously some sports injuries – like concussion, muscle tears and strains – can also prevent you from driving safely.

In these situations, ask your doctor about whether you can drive and use your own common sense. In most cases your licence won’t be affected and you won’t need to report your condition to Roads and Maritime Services.

Health problems that can affect driving

A range of health problems can affect your ability to drive safely. Here are some of the key health problems and why they can affect driving skills.

  • Blackouts and fainting
    It’s pretty obvious why blacking out at the wheel is a problem! These symptoms need to be taken very seriously as they may indicate an underlying health problem.
  • Vision problems
    Good vision is also an obvious necessity when driving. Most people’s vision problems are fixed by wearing glasses or contact lenses. If you’re worried about your eyesight, book into a doctor or an optometrist for a simple eye test.
  • Epilepsy
    Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that leads to loss of awareness, unconsciousness and loss of control of the body (seizures or fits). If the disease is untreated or poorly controlled, then these symptoms are a big problem on the road.
  • Heart disease
    Heart and blood vessel disease is a risk because of possible loss of consciousness or collapse at the wheel.
  • Sleep problems
    Sleep disorders disturb your normal sleep patterns and can result in sleepiness when driving. Some disorders have been found to increase the rate of crashes by seven times.
  • Diabetes
    Diabetes is a disease which damages the body’s ability to use sugar. The main risk for drivers with diabetes is a loss of consciousness due to a lack of control of their condition. The effects of diabetes on other parts of the body such as the eyes and heart may also affect driving ability in the long-term.
  • Mental illness
    Mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia and panic attacks, can result in significant changes to someone’s behaviour. If untreated, mental illness can increase the risk of a crash by affecting concentration and decision-making.

When to report your condition

If you have one of these conditions – or any other illness that can affect your driving – you need to let Roads and Maritime Services know.

For some conditions, you’ll need to have regular medical check-ups. Your doctor will use national medical guidelines to work out whether you can drive safely. They will also have to fill in a Roads and Maritime Services medical report form. The medical standards are available on the Austroads website

Many people are still able to drive despite having one of these conditions. However, you might need to restrict your driving in some way.

Some people will have their licence suspended or cancelled if the report shows that they shouldn’t be driving at all or if they haven’t had the medical check-up required by Roads and Maritime Services.

Roads and Maritime Services makes the final decision about your licence. They will consider the advice of your doctor as well as other factors such as the type of vehicle you drive (eg if you’re a bus driver!).

Legal stuff

It’s important to remember that you have a legal responsibility to report to Roads and Maritime Services any permanent or long-term injury or illness that may affect your ability to drive safely.

If you’re involved in a crash and your health is found to be a contributing factor, you may be prosecuted and your insurance may not be valid.

Talk to your doctor about your ability to drive safely. Your doctor may also notify Roads and Maritime Services directly if he or she feels that your condition poses a significant threat to the safety of other people.

Conditional licence

A conditional licence means that you can continue to drive as long as certain conditions or restrictions are met.
Conditions may include only driving during daylight hours, wearing glasses or contact lenses when driving, or going to your doctor for a regular review and providing a report to Roads and Maritime Services.

If you are issued with a conditional licence, it’s your responsibility to comply with any driving restrictions or other conditions and to be reviewed by your doctor as required.

Safety of a friend or relative

If you know of someone whose health might be affecting their ability to drive safely, it is important to get them to talk to their doctor.