Traffic safety group says GPs should warn against drink and drug driving

Office for Traffic Medicine to develop strategy to help doctors advise addicted patients

Medical Fitness to Drive Guidelines  provide advice for clinicians. Photograph: iStock

Medical Fitness to Drive Guidelines provide advice for clinicians. Photograph: iStock


Drivers who have an alcohol or drug problem and who continue to drive are the subject of a new information strategy being developed by the National Office for Traffic Medicine, its director Desmond O’Neill has said.

Prof O’Neill said the area of alcohol and driving has been “handled from a legal end”. But he said the Office for Traffic Medicine was looking at ways to devise a preventative strategy for medical professionals dealing with addicts so they could highlight the dangers before addicts become involved in road traffic incidents.

He said the organisation was not looking at situations where medical professionals would report alcoholics to the Garda on suspicion that they might be a risk on the road, but was focussing on conversations medics might have with patients, and possibly the family members of addicts, aimed at raising awareness of the dangers involved.

He said it was hoped to make information on the risks posed by alcoholic or otherwise addicted drivers available in the emergency departments of hospitals and in GP clinics.

“It is a very important area associated with most accidents. Up to a few years ago it has been very much handled from a legal end, once you have had an accident or have been found [drink or drug] driving.”

Prof O’Neill said “we are trying to do a piece of work slowly but surely” in advising GPs how to handle consultations “when somebody comes in and they know that person has an alcohol problem”.

New guidelines

Prof O’Neill was speaking at the launch of new Medical Fitness to Drive Guidelines on Tuesday. The guidelines provide advice for clinicians on fitness to drive issues, particularly in relation to issuing certification that elderly people or those with cognitive impairment were fit to drive.

The launch also saw the publication of research on the difficulties of “transitioning to driving retirement” for patients and the discomfort for GPs who must deal with the issue.

He said the guidelines have been becoming more liberal in recent years, particularly as more knowledge was gleaned about outcomes of stroke and heart attack. He said it used to be the case that when someone had a transient ischemic attack, or minor stroke, they would be “off the road” for four weeks. Now, he said, that is down to one week.

“I have been working in this area for over 20 years. When I started, people were off the road for a heart attack for over two months, now we tend to use clinical discretion. So as the medical evidence comes out we see a general trend around the world for liberalisation.”