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DVLA medical requirements
David Shackleton. November 2011, updated December 2013.

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The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has responsibility for issuing licenses to drivers, determining medical fitness requirements and maintaining records of driver medical conditions. The DVLA take advice from expert Medical Advisory Panels, who assess the risks to drivers and other road users that may result from specific medical conditions. As a consequence of this people with certain medical conditions are not allowed to drive, however medical advances mean that the situation is constantly under review.

Typically the medical requirements are stricter for people who hold a Group 2 license, for example people who drive lorries and buses. Compared to drivers of Group 1 vehicles (e.g. cars) these people spend more time driving and they drive much bigger vehicles. If one of them suddenly became unwell at the wheel the potential for harm is much greater, compared with a car driver. Extensive information will be found on the DVLA website under “medical information”.

Certain medical requirements are determined at European level in order to promote harmonisation of standards. European Directive 2009/112/EC which in turn amends 91/439/EEC and 2006/126/EC has introduced a number of changes for drivers, principally relating to diabetes, vision and epilepsy.

Diabetes

Following a consultation current DVLA guidelines have been updated to reflect some changes to the requirements relating to people with diabetes. These are mainly focused on the risk of hypoglycaemia, which is a condition of low blood sugar that may impair a persons concentration or even result in them becoming unconscious. Previously people who used insulin to treat their diabetes were not allowed to drive Group 2 vehicles but fewer restrictions applied if they were treated with tablets or diet alone. New Regulations mean that as of 15 November 2011 any person with diabetes can apply for a Group 2 license even if they are treated with insulin, providing they can show that they can meet certain conditions:

  1. No episode of hypoglycaemia requiring the assistance of another person has occurred in the preceding 12 months.
  2. Has full awareness of hypoglycaemia.
  3. Regularly monitors blood glucose at least twice daily and at times relevant to driving using a glucose meter with a memory function to measure and record blood glucose levels. At the annual examination by an independent Consultant Diabetologist, 3 months of blood glucose readings must be available.
  4. Must demonstrate an understanding of the risks of hypoglycaemia.
  5. There are no other debarring complications of diabetes such as a visual field defect.
  6. If using insulin, they must have been receiving treatment for more than 4 weeks.

Similar requirements now apply to people who use tablets to control their condition, if the tablets could cause hypoglycaemia.

Many people with diabetes will find it difficult to meet all of these requirements and it is not expected that large numbers of previously ineligible people will now become eligible to hold a Group 2 license.

However the new rules do mean that each person, regardless of the treatment they have, can be assessed individually and allowed to drive Group 2 vehicles if they are safe to do so. Conversely those who cannot meet the requirements will not be able to drive until or unless their situation improves.

DVLA standards for Group 1 drivers with diabetes have also changed, so that those who have treatment with insulin or tablets that could cause hypoglycaemia will also have to meet certain conditions. However the conditions are not quite as strict as those for Group 2 drivers. For example, they must not have had more than one episode of hypoglycaemia requiring the assistance of another person in the preceding twelve months; Group 2 drivers cannot have any episodes. This new specific requirement may cause difficulties for some Group 1 drivers.

From an occupational health and human resources point of view these changes will present new challenges. Some people who were previously barred form certain jobs may now become eligible for those jobs. On the other hand some people may be regarded to be unfit for certain jobs because of the more specific requirements that now apply to Group 1 license holders. Finally, a persons diabetes may change over time and their eligibility for these jobs may also change, which will present operational challenges for management.

Vision

New minimum eyesight standards came into force on 8 March 2013:

Group 1 drivers:

  1. Must be able to read a car number plate (of the type made after 01.09.91) from 20 metres.
  2. Must have a minimum visual acuity of at least 0.5 decimal (or 6/12 Snellen on the opticians chart).
  3. Must have an adequate field of vision

The driver can be tested against these standards with with the spectacles or contact lenses they use for driving (if any) and with both eyes open or, if they have sight in only one eye, with that eye alone.

Group 2 drivers:

  1. Must be able to read a car number plate (of the type made after 01.09.91) from 20 metres.
  2. Must have a minimum visual acuity in the better eye of at least 0.8 decimal (or 6/7.5 Snellen on the opticians chart).
  3. Must have a minimum visual acuity in the other eye of at least 0.1 decimal (or 6/60 Snellen on the opticians chart).
  4. Must have an adequate field of vision with visual fields 160 degrees horizontally and at least 70 degrees to the left and the right and 30 degrees up and down. No defect may be present within a radius of the central 30 degrees.

The driver can be tested against these standards with the spectacles or contact lenses they will use for driving. Spectacles may have a maximum corrective power of +8.0 dioptres whereas contact lenses may be of any power.

Epilepsy

New rules came into force on 8 March 2013.

Epilepsy is now defined, for the purpose of driving, as two or more epileptic seizures during the previous five year period.

Group 1 drivers may qualify for a license if:

  1. They have been free from any epileptic attack for one year or..
  2. They have attacks that only occur during sleep and that pattern has been established over a period of twelve months or..
  3. They had an attack during sleep and had an attack during sleep more than three years ago and there have been no awake attacks since that time or..
  4. They have ongoing seizures that occur without any influence on the level of consciousness or causing any functional impairment and with no history of any other type of seizure, providing the pattern has been established for 1 year.

Certain other situations are allowed for example seizures only related to changes in medication; specialist advice will be required from DVLA.

Group 2 drivers may qualify for a license if they:

  1. Hold a full ordinary driving licence and
  2. Have been free of epileptic attacks for the last ten years and
  3. Have not taken any anti-epileptic medication during this ten year period and
  4. Do not have a continuing liability to epileptic seizures

In summary

People who need insulin to treat their diabetes are no longer absolutely barred from holding a Group 2 license.

People who have treatment for their diabetes that could cause hypoglycaemia (insulin or tablets) may still be able to drive Group 1 or Group 2 vehicles if they can show they can meet certain conditions. They will not be able to drive if they cannot meet the conditions.

Vision requirements for Group 2 drivers include a tightening of the standard for the better eye, but a relaxation of the standard for the weaker eye. However limits now apply to the maximum strength of spectacles therefore correct fitness examination will include knowledge of the prescription for the spectacles used, or the advice of an optician.

People with a history of epilepsy will be barred from holding a Group 2 license unless they have been off medication and free of seizures for ten years. Certain groups of people with epilepsy will be eligible for a Group 1 license.

This article focuses mainly on Group 2 drivers because this is occupationally relevant. Many firms base their internal fitness standards for vocational drivers on the DVLA standards for Group 2 drivers, so a review of their internal policies may be needed.

Management, human resources and occupational health should consider the implications for employees who have to meet a medical fitness standard related to the DVLA fitness requirements.

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