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All you need to know about driving when suffering from medical conditions

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Did you know that in Singapore, if you are 65 years old and above, you need to be certified fit to drive by a Singapore registered medical practitioner? Renewals are valid for three years, after which drivers must be certified medically fit again.

Drivers under the age of 65 need only an eyesight test, with no medical examination required.

But all motorists are required to be certified if you have any existing medical condition or disability that may render you unfit to drive under Singapore law. The list of disabilities and diseases under the Road Traffic Act (Motor Vehicles, Driving Licences) include mental disorders and epilepsy.

Drivers with such conditions who drive and get into an accident would be liable under the Penal Code for having committed a negligent or rash act. Not only that, your car insurance could be void.

How much does it cost if you have to have a medical checkup when renewing a driving licence?

The medical examination fee for the renewal of a driving licence for drivers aged 65 and above at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics is $30.60. This covers the doctor's and nurse's time for the clinical assessment.

A separate doctor's fee of $12.60 for adults or $6.80 for those aged 65 and above will be charged if the patient is also consulting the doctor for a medical condition during the visit.

Driving and medical conditions

Some medical problems that can affect driving are:

Cataracts

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes opaque, causing blurred vision.

When it comes to driving, there is a minimum standard of visual acuity every driver must meet. You must be able to read at a distance of 25 metres (this could be with the aid of spectacles or contact lenses, if you wear them) a series of 6 letters and alphabets in white on a black background of the same size and arrangement as those prescribed for the identification mark of a motor vehicle. You should also be able to distinguish the colours red, amber and green from a distance of 25 metres. 

Cataracts could have a major impact on your performance behind the wheel. The good news is, corrective surgery is possible in most cases to make your vision clear again.

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration can cause distortion in your central field of vision and cause objects to appear less sharp and defined. This can make seeing road signs, pedestrians and objects on the road difficult.

It is one of the causes of vision loss, especially for people over the age of 60.

Dementia

Dementia impairs judgement, memory and decision-making skills. While those affected may be able to drive safely in the early stages of the disease, as it progresses, driving can become risky and dangerous.

Epilepsy

This is a neurological disorder that causes seizures. It has many causes, including genetic disorders, brain injury and stroke.

As seizures give rise to a temporary loss of awareness or consciousness, driving with uncontrolled epilepsy is a major safety risk.

Diabetes

Diabetics, especially those being treated with insulin, need to be aware of the onset of hypoglycaemia. Low blood sugar can give rise to sudden attacks of giddiness or fainting. This will obviously impair driving ability.

Diabetics may also suffer from diabetic retinopathy which impairs their eyesight. Therefore, they need to get their eyes checked regularly to make there is no deterioration in their vision.

Sleepiness

Another issue is driving while feeling sleepy. While not a medical condition, sleepiness while driving can lead to car crashes.

This is because sleepiness causes slower reaction time, reduced vigilance, decreased attention and information processing. Worse, the driver could also fall asleep at the wheel, leading to accidents.

Some of the risks for sleepiness are:

  • Late night driving between midnight and 6am
  • Driving for long hours without a break
  • Driving in the mid-afternoon
  • Use of sedating medications
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea and narcolepsy
  • Sleeping less than 4 consolidated hours a night

Other conditions that could affect your driving ability are:

  • Heart conditions
  • Vertigo
  • Psychiatric disorders, such as mood disorders and schizophrenia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders such as joint diseases and disabilities, and limb disorders

Declare all medical conditions that could affect your driving

When you apply for a driving licence, you are required to declare any medical conditions or disabilities that could affect your driving, whereupon you will be advised if you are eligible to drive or need to go for medical tests to determine your driving capabilities.

Some hospitals in Singapore like Tan Tock Seng Hospital have a rehabilitation service for those with medical conditions to learn or return to driving.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Driving Assessment and Rehabilitation Programme (DARP) has a therapist who specialises in assessing a client’s ability to return to driving safely and legally, based on the medical guidelines on Fitness to Drive (Singapore Medical Association) and the requirements of the Traffic Police.

It is suitable for:

  • Those with physical conditions such as limb weakness and disability, amputation, spinal cord injury and progressive neurological conditions.
  • Those with cognitive impairments from brain injury, dementia and stroke.
  • Those with congenital and childhood illnesses such as cerebral palsy and polio.

Your health affects your perception, response time, ability to control the vehicle and judge situations. Thus, you should be responsible in judging your fitness to drive. See your doctor regularly if you have chronic medical issues and take the necessary medication to mitigate the effects of the condition.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, it’s vital to have good car, motorcycle and travel insurance cover.
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