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Bin lorry crash inquiry: DVLA must do more

Date: 16 December 2015   |   Author: Daniel Puddicombe

An inquiry into the fatal Glasgow bin lorry crash of 2014 has called on the Government to shake up the rules surrounding the non-disclosure of medical information in a report issued earlier this month.

The inquiry determined that the collision may not have happened had the driver, Harry Clarke, not lied about his medical history. Evidence at the inquiry, which concluded in August, revealed Clarke had suffered an episode of neurocardiogenic syncope - a temporary loss of consciousness - before the incident. He passed out at the wheel while the lorry was on Queen Street in Glasgow's city centre, leaving six people dead and 17 injured.

Sheriff John Beckett, who presided over the inquiry at the Glasgow Sheriff Court, suggested that doctors should have advised Clarke to notify the DVLA and clarified the circumstances of an earlier blackout in 2010 while driving a bus "before concluding that he had suffered a simple faint".

In the report, Sheriff Beckett set out 19 recommendations to limit the chances of similar collisions occurring in future, with the majority directed at Government. These recommendations include a suggestion for the Department for Transport to establish whether doctors should be obliged, or have a greater sense of freedom, to report fitness-to-drive concerns to the DVLA, while there is also a call for the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin to consult with third parties such as the police on how the DVLA should obtain the information to make licensing decisions.

Sheriff Beckett also called on the DVLA to change its policies so information from bodies including the police could be investigated, while he added that the Government agency should "redouble its efforts to raise awareness of the implications of medical conditions for fitness-to-drive".

"We are carefully considering the recommendations," the DVLA said.

Other recommendations detailed in the report were aimed at Glasgow City Council as well as the medical profession.

According to Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, which aims to improve medical education and practice across the UK, there is already guidance in place whereby doctors will recommend to patients that they should inform the DVLA of any medical issues that could hamper their ability to drive.

"The responsibility for informing the DVLA about medical conditions sits first and foremost with the patient," he told BusinessCar. "But doctors have responsibilities too. Confidentiality is not an absolute as doctors play an important role in keeping the public safe on the roads," he added, saying that if, at present, a patient refuses to inform the DVLA of changes to medical conditions, doctors do have the powers to inform the DVLA if they feel other people could be at risk.

Lesley Upham, commercial director at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, sees the inquiry as more than a case of simply imposing strict rules: "When livelihoods are at stake we are not convinced that higher penalties for failing to disclose will be very effective. This. incident has shown that everyone must give road safety the highest priority and that includes employers who have a duty of care to ensure they check records thoroughly and have the full health picture for all their employees."