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Medically fit?

NZTA’s latest crackdown on Uber drivers in New Zealand includes medical fitness checks.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has issued no-drive notices to Uber drivers operating with serious medical conditions.

Information released to the Herald through the Official Information Act reveals two Uber drivers have been deemed “medically unfit to drive a vehicle in a passenger service” and ordered to stop by the NZTA.

The pair are among 29 Uber operators served prohibition notices and banned from driving, 141 infringement notices and 118 official warnings from the NZTA up to September 23.

I wouldn’t want someone with a virulent contagious illness as my driver. But I also wouldn’t want that person coughing all over me at a retail kiosk either.

Beyond those kinds of contagion issues, which you’d think would affect more than just cab driving, I’m a bit puzzled about the medical fitness checks.

I can understand being medically fit to drive.

I can understand people being medically unfit to drive. A colleague of mine at Canterbury had epilepsy and needed to go several years between seizures before being allowed to drive again – whether or not there were passengers. A driver with severe vision problems would impose risks on others on the road – again, whether or not there were passengers. Narcolepsy could be a problem, albeit with the caveat that the only thing I know about narcolepsy comes from here.

I suppose there has to be a range of illnesses where the risks are high enough to warrant barring their having passengers, but not so high as to ban their driving altogether. But can that range really be all that large?

You need illnesses that somehow affect driving ability but that relates to the people inside the car rather than risk to people outside of the car – or that are at the knife-edge for counting as medical fitness for driving normally.

In the first case, suppose there were some illness where, if something bad were going to happen, you knew long enough in advance that you had plenty of time to pull over safely and call an ambulance. That kind of thing could be well handled by a non-commercial driver, but maybe you could argue that a person with that condition shouldn’t be taking commercial passengers (although you could also expect that an operator that cares about reputation would already be factoring that in).

In the second, if an illness imposed risk that made the whole thing just under the line for banning driving but not quite, the expected number of people affected in an incident goes up for commercial drivers because there’ll be a passenger involved.

If the risk relates to the number of hours or kilometres driven, with commercial drivers being on the road more, wouldn’t that be a case for a medically restricted driver’s license category, barring the driver from spending more than so many hours per day on the road? If there are folks out there who are just a hazard to others if they’re driving for too long, shouldn’t we be worried about that during the holiday driving season?

I’m curious what the actual range of illnesses is that are safe enough for non-commercial driving, but too risky for driving with passengers. I’m also curious how granular things are. In the second case I laid out, there’d also be illnesses where you might be safe enough to drive a cab, but not safe enough to drive a bus with 30 people on it.

Everybody has to declare their medical fitness when they complete a driver licence application form, but folks with passenger endorsements also have to do it on renewal – and present a medical certificate. Should we then be worried about a few Uber drivers that don’t meet the commercial standard, or about the unfathomed risk imposed by non-commercial drivers who haven’t presented a medical certificate?

My prior here is that this is just NZTA protecting incumbents and sticking by the rules for the sake of Vogonity. But maybe there’s something else to it.

About Eric Crampton (87 Articles)
I'm Head of Research with the New Zealand Initiative.

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