"When I started learning to drive I found it very challenging - but I got there eventually, after two years and four tests. I drive an automatic and I started with a steering ball and an extension on the left hand indicator but I now manage without them. I have been driving for four years now and have driven many miles now, from Suffolk to Cornwall, and I love it."
Can anyone with hemiplegia learn to drive?
Many people with hemiplegia can learn to drive, usually an automatic car with power steering and modifications to the controls as necessary (e.g. steering ball, indicator lever extension or infra-red control, swivel seat, pedal adaptation for those with right hemiplegia).
However, for some people a visual or motor impairment or a learning disability can be a barrier to becoming a driver. When applying for a provisional licence, hemiplegia must be declared along with anything else that might affect one's ability to drive. (Hemiplegia isn't listed on gov.uk's list of conditions that might affect driving ability, but you're advised to contact DVLA about any condition not listed, and this includes hemiplegia.)
Epilepsy must also be declared, and anyone with epilepsy must be seizure free for one year (with or without medication) to hold a licence.
When you contact DVLA, they'll ask you to fill out a medical condition form with your application.
Visit www.direct.gov.uk/en/motoring to find out more.
Learning to drive
Anyone with a disability will have to be assessed to check whether they will be able to drive and what adaptations they will need to do so. There is generally a charge for assessments, and prices vary from centre to centre.
Driving Mobility has a network of centres around the UK, and its extensive website has all kinds of information and links for disabled drivers. Although independent, the centres are recognised by other mobility organisations including Motability and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
"Having now been driving for nearly two years, I can look back at learning as a positive experience. It took two years to learn and literally hundreds of hours of lessons and practice. Nevertheless, with perseverance and determination I did get there, and this can be true for many others with hemiplegia. The very fact that it took me so long indicates that driving can and did prove difficult, yet not impossible. Having a specialist instructor with the necessary patience was invaluable."
Does your child get Personal Independence Payment (PIP)?
"Originally, due to under emphasis of my disability, I was on the lower rate, but thankfully, through help with form filling via welfare advice, my allowance was reviewed, changed to the higher rate, enabling me to have a vehicle through the scheme. The cars are changed every three years and are fully covered for insurance and servicing."
If your child is getting the PIP higher-rate mobility component, they:
- Can learn to drive when they are 16, and apply three months before that.
- Can, if aged between 16 and 24, possibly get help towards the cost of driving lessons.
- Can lease or hire purchase a car through Motability - www.motability.co.uk/main.cfm. If you start by applying for a grant from Motability, they will pay for your child's assessment. Motability may also provide a grant to pay for adaptations needed to the vehicle. If your son or daughter leases a Motability care but is not yet able to drive, they may also be eligible for help with the costs of driving lessons although this will be dependant on household benefit income.
- May also be able to apply for a Blue Badge allowing them to use disabled parking bays. They will qualify automatically if they score eight points or more for the PIP activity of moving around. In Scotland and Wales they also qualify automatically if they score 12 points or more for the PIP activity of 'planning and following a journey'. If they don't qualify automatically they may still qualify via a local authority assessment of their difficulties out of doors.
- Qualify, as Blue Badge holders, for a 100 per cent exemption from the London Congestion Charge, but they must register with Transport for London (TFL) and pay a one-off £10 registration fee. For more information phone 0845 900 1234 or apply online.
- If awarded the mobility component of PIP at the enhanced rate, may be exempt from paying road tax. If they qualify for the mobility component at the standard rate they may be eligible for a 50 per cent reduction instead.
"I have a Motability car which I find essential for my independence - it allows me a tremendous amount of freedom."
"My Ford Fiesta, chosen from a range of cars, colours, etc. has adaptations, which include a flip accelerator pedal, steering wheel knob and controls, and I had to fund these myself; however the car itself has been provided through the Motability scheme."
If you're thinking about Motability, be aware that many cars need a deposit (and for an automatic this costs more than a manual). Adaptations may also need to be paid for, although some grants are available. Some prefer to buy a car on a loan in the normal way and use PIP to cover monthly repayments.
Young people may also be able to get financial help for learning to drive and adaptations from charity sources or through local social services or the Access to Work scheme (contact your local Jobcentre Plus for more information).
People with a disability do not have to pay VAT on having a vehicle adapted to suit their condition, or on the lease of a Motability vehicle. For more information go to the Revenue & Customs site. HMRC does not require a disabled person to be receiving PIP to qualify - the site has HMRC's own form to fill in where the applicant will just have to state that they have a disability.
You can buy converted vehicles secondhand, and many Motability cars come on the market when their three year lease is up. Bear in mind that there may be safety issues, and you should factor in any fitting costs.
The Disabled Living Foundation has a list of sources of secondhand equipment - follow the link to factsheets at www.dlf.org.uk.
Getting car insurance can be a problem for disabled drivers, especially young ones. The following companies offer cover (for 16 year olds as well).
Chartwell Insurance www.chartwellinsurance.co.uk
En Route Insurance www.enrouteinsurance.co.uk
Fish Insurance www.fishinsurance.co.uk
Other useful links
- www.gov.uk/browse/driving- the government site with information on all aspects of motoring and transport.