Coroner recommends restrictions for epileptic truckies

Queensland may overhaul heavy vehicle licensing requirements following inquest into an accident involving an epileptic truck driver

By Brad Gardner

Queensland may overhaul its heavy vehicle licensing requirements following a coronial inquest into a fatal accident involving an epileptic truck driver.

Coroner Annette Hennessy has found Peter James and Pauline Anne Maczkowiack died instantly when a Nanango Removals truck driven by Donald MacFarlane collided with their car on the Bruce Highway in 2006.

The inquest into the incident revealed the collision occurred because MacFarlane had "a partial epileptic seizure or due to inattention or falling asleep at the wheel".

"It is more likely the former," Hennessy says, citing MacFarlane’s lifelong history of epilepsy and that he had ample rest before the incident.

Hennessey has recommended truck drivers with epilepsy be forced to gain medical approval from a neurologist before gaining a commercial truck licence.

Queensland Transport currently requires a certificate from a general practitioner and told the inquest that any specialist opinion must be organised by the doctor.

MacFarlane’s GP, Dr Robyn Ogle, contradicted the department’s claims, telling the inquest a licence should only be issued on the advice of a neurologist and that the applicant would need to comply with a medical regime.

MacFarlane was taking medication for his epilepsy, but Ogle did not complete any forms for Queensland Transport and was unaware of MacFarlane’s licence status.

He received a medical certificate from a different GP but Ogle says she would have recommended MacFarlane see a neurologist if she knew he wanted to gain a commercial truck licence.

"Dr Ogle stated in evidence that she would have had concerns if she had known that Mr MacFarlane was driving commercial trucks due to his previous history of uncontrolled epilepsy, despite Mr MacFarlane suffering no seizures since 2002," Hennessy says.

"Dr Ogle was sure that a neurologist should be the medical practitioner to sign off on a person applying for a commercial driver’s licence."

Hennessy also recommended Nanango Removals pay more attention to the medical conditions of their drivers after the company revealed it knew of MacFarlane’s condition but relied on an insurance company to determine his fitness to drive.

"Mr MacFarlane had been cleared to drive by the company’s insurer and Mr [Daniel] Sellin was under the impression that there was therefore no issue with him driving," Hennessy says.

A witness who gave evidence to the inquest said MacFarlane was driving erratically and "fishtailing" before veering onto the wrong side of the road and into the path of the oncoming car.

MacFarlane was charged with dangerous driving after the accident but died before the charges were finalised.

Ogle says MacFarlane had no seizures after the accident but suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

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