In terms of the assessment of fitness to drive, medical standards for truck drivers need to improve. The point has been made by the Australian Trucking Association in its submission to the National Transport Commission’s review of Assessing Fitness to Drive.
Backed by sound legal advice, the ATA submission recommends improving the AFTD commercial standards.
The submission begins, though, by recounting Nathan’s story. In February 2010, Nathan passed away after a B-double collided with his ute on the Pacific Highway. The B-Double driver had been examined under the medical standards just three months before the crash, but the exam had failed to reveal that he had severe sleep apnoea. The B-double driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.
“The AFTD commercial standards are simply not fit for purpose,” said Andrew McKellar, ATA CEO. He said cardiovascular disease, sleep apnoea and diabetes were significant issues for the trucking industry, with truck drivers recording a higher rate of these medical conditions compared to the Australian population.
“Despite these findings, the current AFTD screenings are subjective, unsuitable and out of date. They are unable to properly recognise medical issues that would affect a driver’s fitness to drive,” said Andrew.
The ATA submission highlights an example of this with the AFTD patient questionnaire and its use of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, a tool that is proven to be unsuitable for determining if commercial drivers have sleep apnoea.
The NTC has proposed creating a separate, additional standard for drivers working for certified businesses, but Andrew said that the AFTD commercial standards should instead be improved to include objective medical screening tests.
“The rail medical standards include an objective screening matrix for sleep apnoea, a diabetes screening test and an objective cardiac risk assessment using the Australian absolute cardiovascular disease calculator,” said Andrew.
To support its submission, the ATA sought legal advice from national law firm Holding Redlich. The advice concluded that no jurisdiction’s legislation would prevent AFTD from mandating specific examination procedures similar to the rail worker medical standards.
“The NTC has argued these objective tests are beyond the scope of what they can do, but as outlined in our submission, there is no legal reason why objective screening like this cannot be included in driver medicals,” said Andrew.