DRIVERS with serious medical conditions including heart problems, epilepsy, depression and cancer face the prospect of being put off the road for six months or more until their illness is treated.
New medical guidelines say that in certain cases they must stop driving until their doctor is satisfied their condition is being treated or under control, the Irish Independent has learnt.
Motorists will be legally responsible for telling the Road Safety Authority (RSA) – the body in charge of driving licences – if they have been declared unfit to drive.
And doctors will also be encouraged to tell authorities if a patient continues to drive after being told they were medically unfit.Drivers who refuse to heed medical advice and are involved in a collision face the prospect of their insurance company refusing to cover them, being sued by injured parties and prosecution.
The guidelines, which were sent to doctors last month, were developed by the Office for Traffic Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in consultation with motoring groups, doctors, gardai and the Road Safety Authority (RSA).
It is the first time formal guidelines have been issued to GPs and health professionals.
The rules will affect hundreds of thousands of motorists, but the RSA said they were aimed at allowing people to remain driving except in exceptional circumstances.
"The strong advice to anybody with medical conditions that could potentially impair their driving is to discuss it with t8heir doctor as early as possible," chief executive Noel Brett said.
"In most countries there are very detailed medical guidelines and training for medical practitioners. In Ireland, we didn't have a formal system.
"The guidelines provide better clarity for doctors when recommending restrictions, such as on night-time driving, or signing a fit-to-drive certificate. In other places, medical fitness is seen as stopping people. The Irish policy is about prolonging and promoting safe mobility."
People with conditions including diabetes, epilepsy, alcoholism and cardiovascular diseases were obliged to tell their local authority which issued their driving licence.
Motorists could then be sent for a medical examination, and doctors would decide if they were fit to drive. The recommendations state:
• Up to 40,000 people with epilepsy must be seizure-free for 12 months before driving, but can have a 10-year licence issued if seizure-free for five years.
• Diabetics at risk of hypoglycaemia, where a drop in blood sugar levels can result in black-outs and vision problems, can be restricted if they have had more than one attack in the previous year which required another person to help them.
• Stroke victims may not drive for one month after the incident, while certain types of cancers may also result in time off the road ranging from one month to a year.
• People with a head injury can be barred for six to 12 months, while those suffering from severe depression can be advised to stop driving for six months.
• Alcoholics and drug-addicts must be substance-free for six months and may be obliged to undergo blood tests.
• Patients with chest pains, dizzy spells or black-outs will be told not to drive until their condition is diagnosed.
The elderly will not be singled out under the new guidelines which are due to be launched later today.
"Advanced age is not a barrier to driving," they say. "Age-related physical and mental changes vary greatly between individuals but will eventually affect the ability to drive safely."