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Is Now The Time To Appeal Against Unfair DVLA "Medical Fitness To Drive" Decisions?

After the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) were criticised for keeping drivers off the road unfairly for medical reasons, is now the time to appeal against wrongful decisions?  The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has condemned the DVLA for wrongly keeping drivers off the road for years because the system used to assess people with medical conditions and disabilities was “not fit for purpose”.  The watchdog found that people had been left in limbo due to flawed decisions, severe delays and poor communication, causing them huge distress and social isolation, not to mention difficulties due to being unable to work, after driving licences had been unfairly revoked.  Having investigated eight complaints, the Ombudsman service undertook a wider review of the way that the DVLA manages "medical fitness to drive" cases.  This review found that the DVLA does not properly consider all the evidence such as doctor’s reports.  They have found that the decision making process is flawed and lacks proper standards to assess people’s disabilities or health fairly.  The report recommends that the DVLA should improve the way it communicates with licence applicants and medical professionals and should introduce better standards to fairly asses people regarding their ability to drive safely.  However, the DVLA has not accepted all the PHSO’s recommendations, for example the recommendation to put right and financially compensate people who have been affected by the DVLA’s mistakes.

The DVLA’s Driver’s Medical Group, which handles more than 600,000 cases per year in order to judge licence-holder’s fitness to drive, mostly uses a simple questionnaire.  It is thought that approximately 60,000 drivers have their licences revoked on medical grounds annually.  Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor said that she was “deeply concerned” that the Department for Transport had not accepted all her recommendations to put things right for everyone who may have been affected by the failings identified, or by “improving the robustness of the criteria applied in future medical assessments”.  However, Dame Judy said that the DVLA had produced a new guide for medical professionals and has improved its complaint handling.

The Chief Executive of the DVLA, Oliver Morley, said it was sorry for the way some customer’s cases were handled.  “We have already made a number of improvements including more effective ways of managing cases, taking on more staff and introducing a new online service where drivers can tell us about their medical conditions”.  Yet, are vulnerable motorists being denied licences because of failings by the DVLA?

As well as being experts in disqualification removal, we at Speeding Law Solicitors can help vulnerable motorists who disagree with the DVLA’s decision to refuse or revoke their driving licence on medical grounds.  What can a driver do if they don’t like a decision?  Often we will obtain our own medical evidence to refute the DVLA’s assumption that a driver is not medically fit to drive.

There is a legal duty to disclose to the DVLA any medical issue that might affect a person’s ability to drive safely.  When the DVLA suspects that there is a medical issue that affects a persons ability to drive it can revoke a licence under the Road Traffic Act 1988.  However, it is possible to appeal in the magistrate’s court against this within 6 months of the decision.  The ways that the DVLA receive information about fitness to drive are either from the applicant themselves on the form, or from the police, doctors, courts and insurance companies (insurers have to notify the DVLA if insurance is refused on medical grounds).

As was pointed out in the recent report by the PHSO, the DVLA has not always been pro-active in communicating with applicants or helping them to achieve an entirely fair decision.  For instance, has the driver had their licence revoked because of suffering from a “relevant disability” which the DVLA  claim is due to an assumed drugs or alcohol dependency?  Often a minimum period of 12 months without alcohol or drug related problems, perhaps with evidence of abstinence during that period, will persuade the DVLA to grant a licence again.  (Naturally, a higher three year period free of alcohol related problems is required for vocational drivers.)  For more information on drink or drug driving, click here for our drink driving and here for our drug related offence pages.

Another issue may be the age of the driver.  At the age of 70, all driving licences expire and in order to continue driving you need to renew your licence before your 70th birthday, and every three years from then.  However, “Age alone is not a reason to remove a licence”, as a High Court Judge said in a case in January 2015 involving a 78-year-old woman who caused a three car pile-up, but who won a High Court battle for the right to drive again. The High Court judge, Ms Justice Simler, quashed the DVLA decision in the case declaring that there had been no medical evidence to back up the DVLA’s assertion that "age-related cognitive impairment" rendered  the lady unfit to drive. In fact there was clear evidence that she did not suffer from cognitive impairment.  The judge said that the DVLA had erroneously relied on the lady’s bad performance during the appraisal following her accident as proof that age-related problems made her a danger.  She ruled that a medical expert's findings had not been taken proper account of, adding: "A relevant disability cannot be inferred from a driving performance alone." 

Do you have your life on hold because of a flawed decision by the DVLA on a medical fitness to drive case?  Or is a family member or friend suffering unnecessarily by not being able to drive after an unfair decision by the DVLA on medical grounds?  As the president of the AA has commented about the PHSO findings “A driving licence is a lifeline for many people.  The licence enables mobility, independence, employment and freedom.”  Edmund King went on to say, “We welcome this important report and look forward to improvements being made.  More resources and better communication are need to enhance what is a complex yet vital process”.

We carry out many such appeals against poor decisions and wrongful revocation of licences by the DVLA at Magistrates Courts. If you find yourself frustrated by the DVLA’s stance in relation to allowing you to drive, contact us for a free telephone consultation on 0800 909 8110.  See our website Speeding Law Solicitors for more information.