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Learning to Drive With A Disability—What You Should Know

Blue and white disabled parking spot

Many of us know that having a driving licence can provide a real sense of freedom and independence. Getting behind the wheel of your own car certainly beats faffing about with public transport or relying on other people for lifts! This is especially true for people living with a disability. Being able to drive opens up a range of opportunities and means travelling from A to B becomes a doddle. The problem is, certain disabilities (be they visible or invisible) can affect how a person is able to operate a vehicle. As a result, if you do have a disability, you need to inform the DVSA straight off the bat.

Of course, the term ‘disability’ covers a whole range of conditions, and the DVSA will assess things on a case-by-case basis. While certain disabilities will prevent you from gaining a licence, in many cases, a few simple considerations or modifications are all that is needed.

Join us as we explore the ins and outs of driving with a disability. You’ll discover how to apply for the provisional, the type of instructor you should go for, and the various car modifications that can make driving with a disability much easier. Let’s get stuck in!


Can you learn to drive?

No walking red hand traffic signal

Because disabilities can vary so much in terms of severity, there often isn’t a cut and dry answer for whether certain conditions prevent people from driving. This is why it’s important to be proactive and find out as much about DVSA restrictions as you can. A great place to start is by having a browse of the list of disabilities that you must inform the DVSA about. If your particular disability does appear on the list, it’s worth having a chat with your doctor to see if they think your condition will affect your driving.

One of the best ways to get a definitive answer about your driving future is to visit a driving mobility assessment centre. These organisations are located all over the UK and exist for this very purpose. After an interview with a clinician and/or a driving instructor, you’ll be told whether you meet the medical standards to be fit to drive. Keep in mind that in some cases a physical assessment will be required. If the outcome of your assessment is that you are fit to drive, you may be recommended certain aids or car modifications to make the process easier.

As we’ve said, the DVSA tends to judge disabilities on a case-by-case basis. If you have a disability that means you suffer fits, seizures or fainting, however, it is very possible that you will not be eligible to drive.

Applying for your provisional 

A D1 provisional driving licence application form

To kick off your driving journey, you need to apply for your provisional licence. Without this little green card, you won’t be able to book a theory or practical test. The good news for some with a disability, is that you may be able to apply for your provisional earlier than everyone else!

You see, if you receive either the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), or the enhanced rate mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you can get a licence from the age of 16. That’s a whole year earlier than the average learner! To be specific, if you meet the criteria, the earliest you can apply for your provisional licence is 3 months before your 16th birthday.

When applying for your provisional, we cannot stress enough how important it is to let the DVSA know about any disabilities you have. Nobody enjoys filling out these forms, and any mistake means you’ll have to do it all over again. No thanks! Not only that, forgetting or refusing to do so can have serious consequences for your bank balance. Yep, you face a fine of up to £1,000 for failing to alert the DVSA to a disability that could affect your driving. And that’s not even the worst case scenario. If you end up being involved in an accident before informing the DVSA of your condition, you can be prosecuted. This is serious stuff people!

What happens once you’ve sent off your application? Well, the DVSA will either approve it, deny it, or request more information on your disability. If it’s the latter, you’ll receive a medical in-confidence document to fill out. Another form, another wait and then hopefully you’ll be onto the next stage!

Picking a driving instructor 

Cartoon red car with woman driving attached to car key

A very important decision for any learner driver is who is going to teach them to drive. Sure, you can take practice lessons with friends or family, but at some point you will need to work with a professional instructor, to ensure your driving meets DVSA standards. If you’ll be driving with a disability, selecting the right instructor requires a lot of consideration.

Depending on the nature or severity of your disability, you might think about working with a specialist driving instructor. That is, someone who has extra training in how to teach people with various disabilities. On top of teaching you everything you need to know to get test-ready, specialist instructors can also advise you on things like operating adapted controls and how to get a wheelchair in and out of the car.

Disability driving instructors operate all over the UK, so it’s definitely worth having a browse of the options in your local area. Such instructors will usually have cars fitted with some basic modifications to aid those with certain disabilities. If you require more specialist equipment, however, you may need to purchase your own car and have the instructor provide your lessons in that.

Don’t think your disability has enough of an impact to warrant a specialist ADI? We recommend you at least test out a few instructors before committing to one long term. If possible, take an assessment lesson with potential candidates to ensure they can meet your needs. No matter your specific condition, it’s always a good idea to let any instructor know about your disability in advance. This will enable them to make any necessary preparations and provide you with the best possible service.

Which car to go for?

Close up of an automatic gearshift within a car

For those who think learning to drive might be slightly trickier for them because of a disability, there are a few choices that can make the process easier. First off, deciding on an automatic rather than manual transmission can really speed things up. It saves you having to learn about gear changes or master clutch control. Of course, if you do go down this route, your licence will not enable you to drive a manual car. For most people, though, that’s not really an issue.

In cases where a physical disability impedes a person’s ability to make full use of the controls in a car, modifications can be a real life saver. Seriously, there’s a whole world of handy adaptions out there! Kit your car out with personalised functions to suit your needs, and you’ll be hitting the road in no time.

Common car modifications include:

  • Hand controls to work the foot pedals
  • A joystick or ball to manoeuvre the steering wheel
  • Customised foot pedals
  • Electronic accelerators
  • Car boot hoist (for wheelchair users)
  • Transfer plates (for wheelchair users)

If you do visit a driving mobility assessment centre, they will be able to recommend the specific modifications that will help you with your driving. You can also explore the various modifications and adaptions that are available to order online. (Note that some are only available as part of a wider scheme.)

Every little helps

Yellow markings on ground to denote a disable parking space
Photo © Tdmalone (cc-by-sa/2.5)

On top of the various choices you can make to increase the ease of driving with a disability, there are a range of available benefits out there to explore. An obvious place to start is with financial aid. If you receive the higher rate component of the Disability Living Allowance, for example, you might be eligible for car leasing schemes. This would enable you to put some of your allowance towards leasing a car that’s fitted with modifications to accommodate your disability. So, before signing up for driving lessons, make sure you’re aware of any financial benefits that are available to you.

Aside from the physical act of driving itself, you might find that your disability affects the way you are able to understand or partake in the theory and practical tests. Good news! The DVSA is well aware of this and has various measures in place. Hearing problems? You can take the theory test in video form with sign language. Trouble comprehending words and numbers on a screen? Someone may be able to sit with you and read out the questions. And so on. While there’s no getting away from the fact that you have to take the same tests as everyone else, your particular requirements will be taken into account. Just ensure that you flag up any special circumstances with the DVSA before you head to your test.

Depending on the nature of your disability, you (or your partner) may be eligible to apply for a Blue Badge. This is a useful permit that provides you with access to on-street parking spaces that are much closer to your destination. It’s even accepted in countries across Europe, making in extra handy when you’re on holiday! Check out more about the Blue Badge scheme on the Department for Transport website.

Once you have your licence

Practical test

Passed your test and ready to hit the road? Congratulations! Travelling around is about to get a whole lot more fun and straightforward. Just make sure you’re fully aware of what the different codes on your licence mean. If you passed in a modified car, for example, it means you’re only allowed to drive a modified car.

When it comes to securing an insurance deal, you can rest assured knowing that companies are not allowed to charge you more simply because you have a disability. Even so, when purchasing car insurance, you might find it easier to speak to someone over the phone, rather than organising it all online or by post. This will allow you to get really specific about your situation and ensure the policy you choose covers all of your needs.

Speaking of insurance, it’s extra important that you are covered when driving abroad. Breaking down on a rural country road in France, for example, could be extra frustrating if your car needs a special modification replacing. Knowing that it is covered by your insurance should at least take some of the stress off (though we can’t guarantee the availability of new parts!). You should also be aware that some countries have different rules regarding driving with a disability. Before embarking on a trip, be sure to research any regulations that may apply to you.

Driving with a disability certainly shouldn’t hold you back from enjoying all of the benefits that come with a full licence. As long as the DVSA is aware of your condition and gives you the green light, go forth and take the wheel!


Driving with a disability: FAQs

1. What happens if I have a full driving licence but develop a disability?

If you develop a disability that could affect your ability to drive in any way, it is imperative that you inform the DVSA as soon as possible. This is easy to do via an online form. Not sure if the disability you’ve developed will impact your driving? Consult your doctor.

2. Can the DVSA take my licence off me if I develop a disability? 

If they decide that your particular condition prevents you from being a safe driver, yes. Everything is judged on a case-by-case basis, though, and the DVSA will likely contact your doctor before making a decision.

Do not let this possibility hold you back from informing the DVSA about a disability. Failing to do so can result in a hefty fine (of up to £1,000) and even prosecution.

3. Do specialist instructors charge more than regular ADIs?

Not necessarily. Lesson prices vary depending on the location you live in and the driving school you select. The best way to get an idea of how prices compare is to research the options in your local area.

4. Will I need to take more lessons than someone without a disability to get test-ready?

Again, not necessarily. Everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds—regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Of course, if your disability affects how you comprehend information or learn new skills, then it is likely you will need more time to get test-ready. Work at a pace you feel comfortable with and try not to think about how your driving journey compares to that of others. Everyone is different.

5. How much does a driving mobility assessment cost? 

Prices will vary depending on the company you choose, where you live and the specific type of assessment you require. Contact your local centre to get information on current prices.

6. If I’m disabled, can I get a vehicle tax exemption? 

Yes. You can apply for exemption if you receive:

  • The higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance
  • The enhanced rate mobility component Personal Independence Payment
  • The War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement

You may also qualify to get 50% off your vehicle tax if you receive the standard rate mobility component of Personal Independent Payment.

In both cases the vehicle must be registered in the name of the person with the disability (or their nominated driver).

By Isobel Robb

Isobel enjoys the freedom of the open road and loves driving to new places. She's here to offer helpful hints and tips to improve your motoring skills. When not keeping up to date with the latest driving info you can find her discovering new restaurants or exhausting her Netflix subscription.

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