Granted driving licence, but no guarantee that he can see

Banglore, April 15: The process of getting a licence in Karnataka has become more stringent over the last few years with the inclusion of mandatory tests that grade a person’s driving skills and road safety knowledge. But when it comes to medical tests, the rules are not so stringent. This is a lapse that needs to be addressed, say experts.

For one, first-time applicants for licences to drive non-transport vehicles do not have to appear for a medical test, including for blood pressure and epilepsy that may affect a person’s driving capabilities. Even vision tests are not mandated.

Tests only for those above 40

Tests become necessary only once the applicant crosses the age of 40, or when a motorist is applying for a non-commercial licence renewal. However, even for these categories, the test deals with colour blindness, night blindness and asks if the applicant can read a motor vehicle number plate from a distance of 25 metres in clear daylight.

More often than not, overworked State doctors, who have to issue a medical certificate, rarely conduct the entire range of tests. It’s only in a few hospitals that applicants are referred to an ophthalmologist.

The insistence on a government recognised/appointed doctor to conduct tests for applicants has cut down on the practise of paying a bribe and getting the certificate issued, doctors argue. “All applicants who come for the certification are referred to the eye department for the tests. Without exception, all applicants are tested,” said Resident Medical Officer Prasanna Kumar, Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital.

When asked if additional tests were required for applicants, Dr. Kumar said that in his opinion, the current tests are sufficient.

But a study conducted on 387 drivers by a team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) has highlighted several factors that affect a driver’s vision and consequently their ability to drive safely.

RTO officials say that the current procedure is in line with the Motor Vehicles Act and that they are only following the rules. “It is a Central Act. The forms used by the RTO for medical assessment and declaration are included in the Central Act. It will not be possible to amend it for each State. If stricter tests are needed or tests are to be made compulsory for every applicant, the change will have to happen at the Union government level,” a senior RTO official said.

Rules more stringent for commercial drivers

There are some steps the department is taking to mitigate the situation. However, these are focused on drivers of transport vehicles and those who transport dangerous or hazardous goods.

“Drivers of transport vehicles have to apply for renewal of license every three years and have to undergo the medical test then. The doctors then check them for various issues including reaction time, side vision and glare recovery. For drivers of vehicles transporting hazardous goods, the license has to be renewed every year and they have to take a compulsory refresher course before it is renewed,” the official said.