D4 Medical: Does it actually prove fitness to drive?
27 February 2020
We all know employers have a duty of care under health and safety legislation to ensure their employees are fit to carry out the duties expected of them on a daily basis. For most employers, this is not an issue that causes them too much concern for employees who are depot or office based.
However, the topic of driver health is still very much a taboo subject for fleet operators regardless of the type of vehicle driven by their employees. Asking a driver ‘are you fit to drive?’ on a daily basis seems to be a very difficult question to ask.
The majority of employers find it a very uncomfortable subject to tackle and do not know how to take the positive steps to deal with the topic with employees. Unfortunately, those employers who continue to ignore this issue do so at their own peril, as the consequences of not proactively tackling the issue far outweigh the uncomfortable conversations they should be having with their drivers.
One of the biggest excuses used by employers is: ‘We can’t ask questions about health because of GDPR.’ This is just a myth and is used as an easy get out clause, with most employers relying on the D4 medical for drivers over 45 years of age, to prove fitness to drive. However, is this process robust enough for employers to rely on and how much does the driver actually tell the examining GP if they are not their own GP?
Regardless of the D4 medical, employers need to find out and know about the health conditions their drivers suffer with and the medication they take, not just from a driver well-being stand point but to ensure the validity of their fleet motor insurance policy.
The police and insurance companies are undertaking more and more exhaustive investigations into the health of drivers, especially following a serious/fatal collision. If it is found a medical condition is a contributing factor of such a collision, the driver and the employer may be prosecuted and any motor insurance policy may not be valid. With the average insurance claim settlement for a fatality in the region of £2.25m, how many fleet operators could cover that loss if their insurance company refused to pay out?
Therefore, how big an issue is the health of drivers. In 2017, Direct Line Insurance conducted a survey and estimate 25% of drivers (11 million) are driving with some sort of medical condition and 10% of drivers (4.4 million) are driving with a medical condition that actually affects their entitlement to drive. These figures are more concerning because the large majority of employers and drivers do not know what medical conditions need to be reported to the DVLA. What makes this more frightening is, for vocational drivers, there are more than 175 medical conditions that are reportable to the DVLA of which, 164 are mandatory reportable medical conditions.
It is a criminal offence not to report to the DVLA any mandatory medical condition or any that affects your ability to drive safely. Failure to report such medical conditions will result in a £1000 fine for each unreported medical condition.
A full list of the medical conditions reportable to the DVLA can be found at the following link: www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving
To make this process easier going forward, DVLA will soon be launching a facility for vocational drivers to report medical conditions online.
Unfortunately, the issue of driver health is going to get worse over the coming years due to the fact we are part of an aging population. Employers need to start asking some very awkward questions to find out the information they need to know or to find ways to work with their drivers to solve the problem.
Encouragingly, change is starting to take shape as more fleet operators realise they cannot continue to ignore the issue of driver health. A number of fleet operators have added the simple question: ‘Are you fit to drive today?’ as the last question to the vehicle first use walk around checklist. For one employer in particular, this has helped to break the stigma of driver health, with more than 20 drivers self-reporting medical conditions, leading to support and educational programmes being implemented.
In summary, fleet operators need to implement robust measures to identify, educate and support their drivers. There are numerous processes and procedures they can implement to manage this issue which should be detailed in a specific Managing Driver Health policy. A good starting point should be to ensure their drivers see their own GP when they need a D4 medical as the GP will be familiar with any medical conditions the driver is suffering with and will be able to provide an accurate report.
More importantly, employers and employees need to have better engagement and channels of communication and self-reporting should be encouraged.