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Industry welcomes new medical standards

Melham says new version better approaches issues related to sleep apnoea and hearing


The new medical standards developed by the National Transport Commission (NTC) and Austroads will improve safety and reduce costs, Australian Trucking Association CEO Christopher Melham says.

Published last week, the new standards will give medical professionals the best available information to help them assess the driving ability of their patients.

The new version, Assessing Fitness to Drive for commercial and private vehicle drivers, comes into force on 1 October.

“The ATA has argued for many years that the approach to sleep apnoea in the medical standards is flawed,” Melham says.

“Drivers are asked to self-report their level of sleepiness using a questionnaire, which then is used to calculate their risk of sleep apnoea.

“But we know that questionnaires are extremely subjective and underestimate the number of drivers who are at risk.

“An Australian study of 325 long distance truck drivers found that more than 40 per cent were likely to have undiagnosed sleep apnoea.

“Only 12 per cent would have tested positive for sleep apnoea on the questionnaire.

“As a result of work by the ATA, the new standards include a clear warning to doctors that they should not rely solely on subjective questionnaires to rule out sleep apnoea. They need to make a clinical judgement.

“It’s critical that drivers with sleep apnoea are diagnosed and get treatment. It’s a road safety issue and a quality of life issue as well.

“People who get treated say they have started waking up refreshed for the first time in years.”

The new standards also include important changes to hearing guidelines that help determine when a driver must be referred for an audiometry test.

“In the discussions about the new standards, the ATA pointed to cases where drivers have been routinely sent off for audiometry even when it wasn’t necessary. This just added to the cost of getting a medical.

“The new standard makes it clear that doctors should only refer drivers for audiometry if they have doubts about their hearing.

“The ATA is aware of cases where highly experienced truck drivers had to stop working because they could not meet the hearing requirements in the medical standards, even with hearing aids.

“The new standards make it clear that these expert drivers can be individually assessed for their ability to keep driving safely.

“The assessment could include a specialist considering the driver’s medical and driving history, the driving task and any assistive devices like extra mirrors that could be used. It could also involve a practical driver assessment.

“Taken as a whole, the new medical standards will improve safety, reduce the cost of driver medicals and help some of the industry’s safest and most experienced drivers stay on the road.

“The standards are an important win for the ATA, our members and Australia’s truck drivers.”


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