Drivers need screening

Drivers need screening

A suggestion by the Department of Land Transport (DLT) to have holders of the lifelong driving licence be re-evaluated to ensure that they are fit to drive has been aborted quickly in the wake of fierce public pressure in what was possibly the most short-lived proposal ever.

The proposal hit the headlines on Saturday, drawing heavy criticism. The department then came forward and denied it, saying "it's just an idea" and it insisted there was no solid plan yet.

But it must be admitted that the proposal, in principle, is a noteworthy one. It's just a matter of how to translate the idea into practice effectively, screening out those who are no longer fit to drive because of old age or age-related diseases. If successful, it would help enhance road safety in the country. Its withdrawal is unfortunate.

Most people who oppose the idea say they are afraid that the DLT might take this opportunity to recall the permanent licence. Many insist they have the right to keep the lifelong document until the last days of their lives.

Others blame recklessness and young, inexperienced drivers for causing accidents but that is only partially true. In any case, the agency immediately made a U-turn, dismissing the news reports in its bid to appease the anger.

The thing is: not all drivers are straightforward about their age-related health conditions and, to a certain extent, old age diminishes the ability to drive and re-evaluation can be necessary.

The department ceased to issue lifelong licences in 2003. Now the DLT only issues five-year renewable licences, while new drivers are required to apply for one-year temporary documents first.

There are about one million holders of lifelong licences. There is no immediate data about the ages of this group of people, but it's believed that the youngest holders of this type of licence are those in their mid-40s or early 50s. There is also no information about the ages of drivers who have the most accidents.

DLT director-general Chirute Visalachitra implied the agency did not dump the plan to make the roads safer. The chief said his agency would identify motorists who were confirmed by doctors as unable to drive safely to improve overall road safety, and nothing else. According to Mr Chirute, the agency "will conduct a study on how we screen people who are unfit to drive or have certain health conditions such as vision problems that may impair their ability to drive". It is to work closely with the Public Health Ministry and will review the laws thoroughly.

The DLT should undertake the studies seriously and use the data to support its idea, so it can gain public support. It will have to ensure the proposed test is well-designed, so it can screen those who are fit from those with health issues that affect their ability to drive.

The department should ensure that the process is not too bureaucratic and doesn't involve too many time-consuming paper tests. It must find a way to make the test more efficient and convenient for old-age drivers. It may have to amend the law and regulations for this bold move.

The DLT should not be daunted by the prospect of doing the right thing, particularly considering it could save thousands of lives.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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