Lifelong truckie Dougie Ingle, 60, is allowed to drive a car, motorbike, even a light rigid.
But eight months after the mysterious medical episode that led to the suspension of his heavy vehicle licence, Ingle is still unable to get back behind the wheel of the B-double in which he earns his living.
Despite countless medical tests and all manner of prodding and probing by doctors and specialists which he says have cleared him to return to driving, Ingle is sidelined from the job he loves most with out-of-pocket costs rapidly mounting.
Ingle estimates he’s lost at least $80,000 in salary, and is only now making ends meet through the generosity of a friend who’s kindly loaned him $22,000 so far.
He’s come forward with his story as a warning to others and to highlight what he believes is a broken system.
“Put anyone through a 100-point medical, transport or whatever, and how many are going to come out the other side all shiny?” said a frustrated Ingle, who feels as fit as he did when his driving career began decades ago.
Ingle says his long-running standoff was sparked by his first AstraZeneca jab on July 11 last year.
Right from that day he wasn’t feeling 100 per cent right, but soldiered on doing two more runs to Brisbane, figuring it was just the way things went for a bloke of his age.
But shortly after he returned from his second post-vax run to Queensland, things quickly deteriorated to the point he collapsed on the floor of his Numurkah home.
Ingle, however, brushed the episode aside, thinking he’d just overdone it, and put himself to bed.
It wasn’t until he woke up the next morning not feeling “too flash” that he took himself off to the Goulburn Valley hospital, unwittingly setting off Covid alarms in the process.
“When I walked in and said I was an interstate truckie feeling like shit after a vax and I’d been in hotspots, they shit themselves,” he said.
After being quarantined and run through a litany of tests – he’s still Covid-free to this day – Ingle was eventually released, still none the wiser about why he’d collapsed.
But he dutifully promised to abstain from all driving while undergoing further tests with a variety of specialists, including visiting Melbourne at his own expense to see a neurologist.
He even consented to wearing a heart-rate halter monitor for a week and Ingle says, “you can’t bullshit that”.
With no red flags evident, Ingle say he was eventually cleared by his doctor to return to driving in early December for new employer, Goulburn Valley Independent Packers.
But Ingle returned from his first run – from Sydney to Brisbane markets – to find a letter from VicRoads telling him his licence would be suspended from December 27 for a medical review.
Ingle says VicRoads had no answer when he called to query why he’d still be allowed to complete another Brisbane job, which he successfully did, before his licence was yanked.
“I’m quite happy to be jumping their hurdles, whatever it is, but there are some bloody errors going on here, really big,” said Ingle.
Ingle is still stumped by why VicRoads intervened so late, even though he’d been given clearance by his own doctor.
VicRoads told us it doesn’t comment on individual cases, but a letter to Ingle sighted by Big Rigs shows ongoing concerns about a condition called brachycardia, a medical term for a slow-resting heart rate.
Ingle was given until April 12 to submit a cardiologist report investigating the cause of his blackout, addressing the preliminary tests it says shows brachycardia, and addressing his fitness to drive private and heavy vehicles.
The truckie grabbed the earliest appointment he could and tell us this week that the tests again came back all clear, with the cardiologist happy to write a clearance letter to VicRoads on the spot.
“As far as the MC goes, he was happy to accept the neurologist decision back in December.
“I’m not going to give up. I’m sitting around here like a stale bottle of piss wasting oxygen at the moment.”
VicRoads reminds drivers of obligations
A Department of Transport spokesperson told Big Rigs that VicRoads has a robust and balanced medical review process which “significantly contributes to keeping Victorians safe on our roads.”
“We will only suspend or cancel a driver’s licence if someone is assessed as medically unfit to drive, fails a driving assessment, does not provide a medical report upon request or refuses or fails to undergo a test,” the spokesperson added.
All drivers in Victoria are legally required to advise VicRoads of any long-term disability, medical condition or injury that may impair their ability to drive safely, which is where Ingle says he may have initially come unstuck.
VicRoads assesses each medical report on a case-by-case basis. If you have a medical condition that could have an impact on your driving, VicRoads may ask you to do a driver assessment with an Occupational Therapy Driver Assessor.
Health professionals have an ethical obligation to support public safety. If a health professional believes a patient lacks insight/judgement and/or is not heeding advice to cease driving or self-report, they may report directly to VicRoads
Each year, VicRoads assesses around 90,000 drivers’ fitness to drive through its medical review process. Of these, around 85 per cent continue to drive, either without further reviews or on a ‘conditional licence’. A high proportion of reviews (60 per cent) are initiated by drivers.
A medical review outcome is based on information we receive, including the provided medical reports and any occupational therapy driving assessment outcomes.
VicRoads assess fitness to drive using AustRoads national Assessing Fitness to Drive Standards that apply to all drivers across Australia.