EXCLUSIVE: A unique Western Australian rule that requires drivers to report if they have depression makes no sense and may deter them from seeking treatment, according to the national CEO of a prominent depression support group.
beyondblue CEO and former Australian Capital Territory chief minister Kate Carnell says it is very unusual that WA requires aspiring motorists to report if they suffer from depression.
“It seems fairly extraordinary to me because there is nothing with regards to depression or anxiety that would impact on your driving skills,” Ms Carnell said.
Ms Carnell said that to the best of her knowledge no other Australian state or territory demanded that licence applicants report their depression to licensing authorities.
An InkWire investigation confirms Western Australia is the only state or territory to specifically question on its driver’s licence application form whether applicants have depression.
Licence application forms published by New South Wales and Tasmania ask more broadly about any “mental disability” that may affect driving, Victoria queries any relevant “psychiatric or mental condition”, the Northern Territory is interested in pertinent “psychiatric conditions”, South Australia in “psychiatric disorders” and Queensland makes no specific mention of mental illness.
Ms Carnell said one in 20 Australians would experience depression at some point in their lives.
“I can’t believe that the department actually seriously want to screen that many people,” she said.
“I would have to assume that there is a large number of people who may not be complying or alternatively they’ve got a very large number of people [with depression] who are being assessed [by the state for driver capability] all the time.”
Research Fellow with the Curtin Monash Accident Research Centre, Peter Palamara, said he was concerned about how well the Department of Transport could enforce the reporting of depression among drivers and how well the department could manage the matter.
Mr Palamara said little was known about the risks depression posed for road safety.
He questioned whether conditions such as depression would increase the risk of crashes if the illness were appropriately managed.
He said further research into the issue was warranted.
Department of Transport spokeswoman Kate Phillips said mental illness could cause suicidal thoughts that may result in reckless driving.
She said mental illnesses impaired the decision-making and reaction times of a driver.
“Many people with a mental illness drive safely,” Ms Phillips told InkWire.
“However, some drivers need to take extra precautions or can be too unwell to drive.”
Ms Carnell said depression was often a temporary condition from which people could fully recover.
On one hand she questioned how people would go about reporting depression if they were yet to be diagnosed.
On the other, she said that mandatory reporting of depression could deter people from seeking a diagnosis.
“What we don’t want is an impediment, such as having to report these sorts of things, getting in the way of people seeking medical help,” Ms Carnell said.