Living with a disability can have a huge impact on many of the things some people take for granted, but it doesn’t necessarily mean having to stop or never even learning to drive. Read on to discover more in our new guide that covers everything you need to know about driving with a disability.
The good news is that a vast range of support and information about driving with a disability is waiting out in the motoring world. It’s there to help people with a disability gain (or retain) the freedom that driving brings. And help them enjoy all the benefits that come with driving here in the UK and further afield.
As with most things in life, the privilege of driving comes with certain legal requirements and responsibilities. That’s why we’ve put a basic guide together to help you navigate the actual and metaphorical highways and byways of driving with a disability.
Many disabled people can drive safely with their disability. As ever, you’ll need to seek specialist advice about this and tell the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about your particular circumstances. Both new and experienced drivers have a responsibility to get in touch with the DVLA in Swansea.
If you are a young, first-time driver, here’s an interesting ‘Did you know?’ fact that could help you get mobile faster. New drivers in the UK normally need to be aged 17 to start learning to drive, but if you have a disability and receive the higher rate mobility component of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) or the enhanced rate mobility component of PIP (Personal Independence Payment), you can start a year earlier than everyone else at the age of 16. Let the DVLA know when you hit 15 years and 9 months of age and apply for your provisional driving licence. As ever, complete openness is the key here. Failure to declare all medical conditions and disabilities when you apply could get your motoring career off to an expensive – as in a £1000 fine – start!
If you give the DVLA the full details about your condition or disability, they will be able to tell you about some of the modifications (if any) that you’ll have to make to your vehicle. Rest assured, like Motability, MotaClarity and other disabled driver support resources, the system is there to help you get mobile.
Conditions including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoid schizophrenia and psychotic depression mean that you must tell the DVLA. This could be when you start driving or if you start to suffer from a condition. If in any doubt, seek advice from your doctor or a similar medical professional.
Equally, you might need to tell the DVLA if you have, or start to experience, other mental health issues that could affect your driving ability. Things such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may fall into this category. Your GP will advise you whether you need to tell the DVLA.
Because learning disabilities can affect your driving, these are conditions that the DVLA needs to know about. Again, please be open and transparent – it’s another area where failure to disclose comes with a potential fine.
That said, the DVLA doesn’t need to know about some learning disabilities. Dyslexia and dyspraxia are two examples. However, if you’re taking your theory test, please tell your test centre so they can give you extra help – or more time – when you sit the test. Again, the system is set up to help you!
Support for people who want to learn to drive ranges from getting help from a local Driving Mobility assessment centre to finding specially trained instructors with cars that have been modified for disabled drivers. If your needs are more elaborate, you may need to learn to drive in your own modified vehicle; many driving instructors will teach you in your own car.
If you're not sure what to do, a visit to a Driving Mobility centre is a great place to start. Driving Mobility centres provide information and professional assessments so people with a disability can retain or gain for the first time the ability to drive. You can choose to self-refer to a Driving Mobility centre, or it's common for organisations like the DVLA, Motability, the Police or a healthcare professional (such as a GP) to recommend an appointment.
Yet again, your first source of guidance should be your GP or other medical professional. If you're starting to drive again after illness or a recent injury has left you with a disability or physical impairment, you must contact the DVLA. Once you’ve done this, they’ll be able to tell you whether you need a modified car or a new or short-term driving licence. In certain circumstances, you might even have to surrender your driving licence for a while.
Remember to contact DVLA too if you’ve just been diagnosed with one of several notifiable medical conditions. These include epilepsy, diabetes, sleep apnoea, glaucoma, certain heart conditions and syncope (fainting). It’s really important for your safety and the safety of others. If in doubt, tell the DVLA!
At MotaClarity, we’re often asked this one. The answer is simple, because road conditions and the challenges of using our highways don’t distinguish between disabled drivers and others, you'll need to take the same practical test and theory test as everyone else.
That said, you’ll be able to take your practical test in a vehicle that’s suitable for your needs. In addition, you’ll find that certain allowances and extra help (such as time in the theory test) will be made available to you. Thousands of disabled drivers successfully pass their driving tests every year. You can join them too!
Thankfully, due to modern technology and schemes such as Motability, there’s usually huge selection of vehicles that are suitable for disabled drivers. From super-minis to top end SUVs, there’s a great choice of cars with handy features to help drivers with a disability.
Once you’ve chosen your vehicle, if you need special modifications to make it easier to work the controls - ranging from the steering and foot pedals to headlight switches and even screen washers - these can all be adapted to make driving safer and more comfortable.
The same applies to getting in and out of your car, as well as loading a wheelchair and even transporting a large mobility scooter. Whatever your disability and driving needs, rest assured that someone, somewhere has already faced the same challenge. The answer is out there, and there are many specialist car adaptation installers, along with Driving Mobility centres, who can help. You can almost certainly drive the car of your dreams with a disability.
Do you own your own vehicle and receive the higher rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA)? Or the enhanced rate mobility component of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP)? If so, you can apply for an exemption from paying car tax. If you get the lower standard rate mobility component of PIP, you can apply for a 50% reduction in your car tax. It all helps!
Of course, if you're a Motability Scheme customer they'll arrange for your vehicle to be taxed automatically throughout your lease at no cost to you.
Another service that exists to help you as a disabled driver is the UK’s Blue Badge permit scheme. If you live with a health condition or disability that affects your mobility, you could be eligible for one of these permits. They’re a godsend that allows you to park closer to many destinations –and use specially marked on-street parking bays. Once issued, you can use your Blue Badge as a driver or a passenger.
Germany’s autobahns call you; you fancy a spectacular touring holiday in the Swiss and Austrian Alps; or you’ve always wanted to pose on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice!
No worries, as a disabled driver, Europe's wonderful road network is ready to welcome you and your car. You shouldn’t have any serious issues. Just make sure to check out any local subtleties before you cross the Channel! Motoring organisations such as the UK’s RAC offer detailed driving advice for all European destinations.
Whether you only drive in the UK or plan on holidaying with your car in Europe, one certainty is that you will need to insure your vehicle.
And finally, an important reminder about car insurance and disabled drivers.
Since 2005 (The Disability Discrimination Act 2005) it’s been illegal for insurance companies to refuse disabled people cover on grounds of their disability. Equally, they're not allowed to discriminate against you by charging more for your car insurance because of your disability. As ever, talk to prospective insurers to find out how to meet your specific motor insurance needs. And remember to tell them about any medical condition or disability. Failure to do so could lead to invalidation of your insurance cover.
As mentioned elsewhere, the motoring system in the UK is geared up to support disabled drivers' special needs. Be open with the DVLA and other organisations and look forward to receiving the help you need to keep your driving independence.
There’s probably never been a wider range of accessories, disability aids and resources to help you enjoy the joys of motoring. Whether you’re beginning your driving career or adapting after years of motoring, we hope this guide has been helpful.
If in doubt, always consult the DVLA or a suitably qualified medical professional for specific advice about your needs.
Here’s wishing you many years of safe, happy motoring!