Lee Wolstenholme's blog: 16 June - Fleet managers, company car drivers and mental health
16 June 2016
The recent coverage of RAC Business and OSA Partnership Group findings pointing to fleet bosses lacking awareness over obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome and other sleep disorders got me musing over the state of play regarding driving and mental health challenges.
With depression, anxiety and other mental health issues having affected various friends and others in my life over the years, I took to the DVLA website as the first port of call. Unsurprisingly, drivers suffering from conditions such as paranoid schizophrenia and fits, seizures and convulsions are obligated to inform the DVLA. Their website also clearly states that drivers who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, paranoia or PTSD need to notify the organisation if their ability to drive is affected. It depends on the severity, which is determined by an individual and their GP.
Research by the University of East Anglia and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research in September 2014 perhaps predictably found that replacing driving with walking or cycling to work often improves employees' wellbeing. Congestion, other drivers' bad habits and sheer monotony understandably place emotional strain on many commuters and business drivers.
However, it logically depends on the distances involved, and I know people who have nobly tried public transport but experienced regular panic attacks caused by uncertainty over bus and train delays and, significantly, because of overcrowding which aggravated mild agoraphobia. Another irony I've encountered is sufferers who find driving therapeutic and relaxing, some finding that their favourite music helps further, whilst others relax better when driving in silence. Certain medication prescribed for depression, anxiety and other moderate mental health challenges can cause drowsiness and reduce cognitive ability, having a knock-on effect on safety, so is a factor that needs considering. Lesser-known conditions such as depersonalisation can also have a mild impact on someone's ability to drive, so greater awareness would be beneficial.
When it comes to company vehicles, an onus is placed on both drivers and fleet managers, openness required from the former and greater understanding from the latter. Fleet management typically involves drivers completing annual health declarations which will ask if any blackouts, confusion or other serious mental health episodes have been experienced or diagnosed.
With mental health issues having come to the fore in the media in recent times, hopefully the subject will quickly become less of a taboo. Open lines of communication between employees, HR departments and fleet managers, along with a measure of flexibility on behalf of employers can go a long way in helping company car drivers to better manage any such conditions and maintain enjoyment in their work. Fleet managers appreciating that an employee who suffers from mild panic attacks may arrive slightly late some days if they need to stop en-route will keep them safer. It will also reduce their stress and boost their productivity, which will in turn strengthen a company's bottom line.