Learning to Drive When Disabled
If you have a disability that interferes with your movement or depletes your strength, driving can make day to day life much easier, but learning to drive can be a big challenge. Many private instructors don't have a good understanding of disability issues and you may have difficulty using a standard vehicle. Fortunately, there's an increasing number of options to help you gain the skills you need and pass your test.
Things to ConsiderBefore you can begin your driving lessons you will need to apply for a provisional license. Your application should include a letter from your doctor to certify that your disability will not interfere with your ability to drive. If you are subject to fits, seizures or fainting you may be disqualified from driving even if you are otherwise well, because of the risk that you could lost control of a vehicle.
If you have a low-level visual impairment you will need to see an optician who can certify that you can see well enough to drive. If your optician says that you are a borderline case, it's still worth going ahead with lessons. Sometimes people who fall just shy of the visual standard that is normally required can receive special permission to drive if their skills are considered good enough to compensate for it.
Arranging LessonsWhen you are looking for lessons, make sure you discuss your disability issues before you make any commitments. If you choose to use a private instructor, it's a good idea to book a single lesson first as a test to find out if there are likely to be any problems. Bear in mind that you may need special tuition to compensate for some difficulties, for instance if you cannot turn your head far enough to check mirrors in the usual way.
If you think that you may need a lot of support, you'll probably find it best to book lessons with one of the big, national driving lesson providers. They should be able to find a comfortable, fully accessible vehicle for you to learn in. Some vehicles can accommodate wheelchairs in the driving position. If you have trouble working pedals, you can use controls on a steering wheel instead. Using an automatic means you won't have to worry about changing gears.
For people whose level of disability varies from day to day, it is usually possible to learn in both an adapted car and an ordinary car. This means that you will know what to do when you need to use an adapted vehicle but, on good days, you will also be able to do things like hiring cars without having to worry about the need for adaptations.
If you are aged between sixteen and twenty four, the charity Motability may be able to help you with the cost of your driving lessons.
Taking your Driving TestWhen you take your driving test, it is important that you start by explaining about any disability issues that may affect your driving. The examiner will take these into account when assessing your overall level of ability. Obviously, because of the safety issues involved, you will still need to be able to drive to a high standard, but you may not have to do everything in the same way as a non-disabled person would.
The standard driving test now includes a maintenance section where learners have to demonstrate that they can do things like changing wheels. If this is not possible for you because of your disability, you will instead be tested on whether or not you can give clear instructions to another person so that they can perform these tasks for you.
Taking a driving test is always nerve-racking and most people don't pass first time, but there is no reason why you should face extra difficulties as a disabled person. With patience, focus and hard work you will soon be on your way to driving freedom.