Driving with a disability
Some disabilities will impact your ability to drive more than others, and I find there's a difference with learning to drive with a disability and relearning to drive with a disability (i.e. driving differently than how you did before your illness or injury). Most people with disabilities are able to drive, but they may have to do things differently to allow safe operation of the vehicle. There are many configurations with adaptations that allow the vehicle to be tailored to the individual. If you have never driven before, there's not really anything to compare it to, so driving using hand controls instead of pedals can feel normal very quickly. If you have been driving one way for a long time, to then learn a different way of driving can be quite tricky for some and it may be trial and error to find the setup that works best for you. I have a lot of experience in teaching people with a variety of physical disabilitities, with learning disabilities and learning difficulties. I have undertaken many hours of training to help me learn how best to support disabled people to drive and I have a car with several adaptations that can help people with a variety of conditions (see below).
The first thing to consider is your driving licence. Your condition may need to be reported to the DVLA, you can find out about that here: www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving. It may be that you are no longer able to drive or that you are given a time restricted licence if your condition could deteriorate. If you need to drive with adaptations, there will be codes added to your licence which mean you can only drive a vehicle with those adaptations fitted. When the DVLA require you to have a driving assessment (see below), you may be issued with a provisional disability assessment licence which means you are unable to drive unsupervised. This may be issued just for the assessment or for training and the assessment, but at the end of the assessment the licence is void and you need to wait for the DVLA to return your full licence before driving again.
Anyone with a disability can have a driving assessment free of charge if referred by a medical professional and you can self-refer for a fee, you can find out more about assessments here: www.drivingmobility.org.uk/assessments/driving-assessments/. There are several centres across Devon which are operated by Cornwall Mobility, you can find out more about what they offer here: www.cornwallmobility.co.uk/how-we-help/on-the-road/learning-to-drive-or-returning-to-driving. A driving assessment is not a driving test, there is no pass or fail. If you have never driven before, they will assess you to see which adaptations would be most suitable and then you would go and have some training with a specialist instructor like myself before taking the same driving test that all learner drivers take. If you are returning to driving, the standard of driving expected is different to that of a learner driver, consideration is made for the fact you are going to have developed some bad habits along the way! Occasionally, the DVLA may request that you have a medical appraisal instead which is carried out at the local driving test centre and is a similar format to a driving test.
My car is fitted with the following adaptations:
If specific adaptations have been recommended following an assessment then this is what we will work with. The aim is to pass an assessment or driving test with as few adaptations as required as every adaptation is associated with a code on your licence, meaning any vehicle you drive will need to be fitted with those adaptations to ensure you are driving in accordance with your licence (there are legal and insurance implications if you are not). When adapting your own vehicle you will need to consider the cost, some of the adaptations are quite expensive.
If you are eligible for the higher rate of mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA) you may be eligible for a Motability vehicle. You can find out more about the scheme here: www.motability.co.uk. I would also recommend having a driving assessment (and possibly even training) before getting your vehicle adapted or ordering a vehicle through Motability. The Motability trained staff at the dealerships are not qualified to recommend appropriate adaptations to your vehicle. A Driving Mobility assessment is undertaken by an Approved Driving Instructor and an Occupational Therapist to ensure the adaptations recommended are suitable and safe for you to use. You may also be eligible for lessons to be funded under the scheme, find out more here: www.motability.co.uk/contact/faqs/how-can-i-get-help-with-the-cost-of-driving-lessons.
If you have any further questions, you can find out more information here: www.disabilitydrivinginstructors.com/driving-advice/ or please feel free to contact me. Although, it can seem very overwhelming and is quite a lengthy process, being able to drive independently can really be life changing for many people.