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Motoring

A vital need of most people is to be independently mobile, and for many disabled people this need is met by a vehicle, usually adapted to their particular needs, whether as a driver or a passenger. Many people will find it useful, and in some cases necessary, to have an assessment of their ability to drive and to get advice on any adaptations they might need to overcome any physical limitations. The range of adaptations that can be made to a car is extremely wide and there are very few people who are unable to drive as a result of physical disability.

Licences

Disabled people can obtain a provisional driving licence from the age of 16. If you already hold a driving licence you are required by law to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if you acquire a disability, whether through accident or illness, or if there is a deterioration or change in any existing disability or medical condition you may have. If your disability is stable and non-progressive, you will normally get a licence valid until you are 70; otherwise the licence may be issued for a restricted period of one, two or three years. If you are given a restricted licence you may apply to renew it when it expires.

There are a few medical conditions which need special consideration before you will be judged fit to drive. These are:

Epilepsy;

Severe mental handicap (learning disability);

Liability to sudden attacks of disabling giddiness or fainting;

  • Inability to read a number plate at a distance of 20.5m (67ft) in good daylight (with the aid of spectacles if worn);

  • Persistent drug misuse;

  • Any other disability likely to cause the driver to be a danger to the public.

In the case of epilepsy, if you have been totally free of seizures for a year prior to applying for a licence, or for the previous three years you have only had seizures whilst asleep, you may be eligible for a licence.

Driving Lessons

All new drivers are strongly advised to have professional driving lessons rather than being taught by a member of the family or a friend, at least at the beginning of their learning period, and especially in the case of disabled drivers because of their particular needs.

Whether you learn to drive in a driving instructor’s car or in your own, you will probably prefer to find an instructor who is confident with teaching disabled people. There are many instructors with this experience, most of whom have taken a special course at the Banstead Mobility Centre. As well as driving skills, they can teach you techniques to get in and out of the car more easily on your own, to get your wheelchair in and out, and to operate the adapted controls, which ordinary instructors would not know about. More and more instructors and driving schools have at least simple hand controls fitted to one or more of their fleet.

When it comes to the driving test, this is in two parts: theory and practical. Theory tests are taken at test centres which are generally wheelchair accessible. If your local centre is not accessible, however, arrangements can be made for you to take the test at home or at a different centre. If you need physical assistance to fill in the answers this can be arranged, but do give the test centre adequate notice of your requirements. Your driving instructor will be able to advise you about this at the time of booking your test.

Disabled drivers are given priority when booking the practical test, and additional time is allotted. This is to enable you, for example, to explain to your examiner the nature and function of any adaptations you use, and to allow for the extra time it may take you to get in and out of the car.

Assessment Centres

There are a number of independent advice and assessment centres, including Banstead Mobility Centre, the Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service (MAVIS), and the Mobility Information Service, which are well worth contacting.

These centres all have a range of vehicles and adaptations which you can try out to see which suits you best. They also have fully trained staff who can advise you on the sort of car adaptations you may find helpful. These could range from simple power steering or an automatic gearbox, through to major adaptations enabling you to steer with your feet instead of your hands. In between come mid-range adaptations such as hand controls or joystick steering.

In addition, advice can be given on equipment to stow a wheelchair, or to enable you to drive from your wheelchair, and on the best method of getting in and out of your vehicle taking account of your particular disability and the way in which it affects you.

Many of the centres have cars available for test drives, and the staff can help you identify the features which you will need to look out for when choosing a car: for example, the number of doors, or door width and opening capacity, sill height and boot storage capacity.

Finance

Buying and adapting a car is an expensive business and many disabled people obtain their car through Motability. Motability operates leasing (known as "contract hire") and hire purchase schemes which enable people to use the higher rate mobility component of their Disability Living Allowance or War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement to pay for the vehicle. In some cases Motability can provide financial assistance with the deposit required. Under the contract hire scheme, a car is leased through a Motability approved dealership normally for three years. At the end of the period, the car is returned to the dealer after having any adaptations removed. The cost covers servicing, repairs and insurance.

In the majority of cases all your mobility component is paid into the scheme for the hire period. There is also an extra charge for any mileage over 12,000 miles per year averaged over the hire period.

Hire purchase is available for almost any new car, or for a reasonably new second-hand car. You buy the car over four or five years and, if you wish, you need only sign over part of your mobility component for that time. After that, you keep the car. You have to pay for your own insurance, servicing and repairs. You pay a deposit, which varies with the cost of the car, whether you are buying over four or five years, and how much of your benefit you are signing over. Cars have to be bought through Motability-approved dealers and you will find that most manufacturers offer discounts to people buying through the Motability Scheme. If you receive the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance you are eligible to apply for exemption from road tax. Exemption forms are available from the Disability Living Allowance Unit.

Adaptations to vehicles are free of VAT and, if a new car has been converted to enable someone to remain in their wheelchair whilst travelling, the whole vehicle is exempt from both VAT and car tax at the time of purchase. Servicing and maintenance of that car is also free from VAT.

Insurance

When obtaining car insurance, it is worth noting that under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, insurers can only charge higher premiums if the extra charge is based on factual or statistical data, or there are other relevant factors which indicate that a disabled person is a higher risk.

You have a responsibility to declare the full facts about your disability when making an insurance application. Failure to do so could invalidate any future claim. You must also inform your insurers about all adaptations made to the insured vehicle.

There are a number of brokers or insurance companies which specialise in motor insurance for disabled drivers and RADAR or the Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club can provide information about these.

The Blue Badge Scheme

The Blue Badge Scheme gives people with severe mobility problems certain parking concessions. You may qualify for an Blue Badge if you are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (higher rate mobility component) or are registered blind, if you have a permanent and substantial disability which means you are unable to walk or have very considerable difficulty in walking, or if you have a severe disability in both upper limbs and regularly drive a motor vehicle but cannot turn the steering wheel by hand with or without a turning knob.

The Blue Badge entitles you to park:

  • Free of charge and without time limit at parking meters and pay-and-display on-street parking areas

  • Without time limit on-street where time limits apply for other drivers; and

  • On single or double yellow lines for up to three hours in England and Wales (without time limit in Scotland) except where there is a ban on loading or unloading.

You can also use your Blue Badge to obtain parking concessions in certain European countries where there are reciprocal arrangements with the UK. A leaflet giving full details is obtainable from the Department of Transport or RADAR.

You should contact your social services department for an application form for a Blue Badge.

Further Information

The Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club and the Disabled Drivers’ Association are the two principal motoring organisations for disabled people and both provide information and advice on all aspects of personal mobility.

MAVIS and the Banstead Mobility Centre also both produce a range of information sheets as well as being able to give information over the telephone.

The Disabled Motorists’ Federation runs the RAMP (Route-planning and Access Map Printing) service. This is a free service for disabled motorists and, if you provide your starting point and destination, RAMP will supply a free route map marked with facilities such as attended petrol stations, accessible toilets, cafes and restaurants, accessible overnight accommodation if required, and other accessible amenities along the way such as tourist attractions. You should give at least 24 hours notice.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.