Many people we spoke with had been drivers before their injury, and sometimes injuries were caused by road accidents. The effects of injuries meant that people were often unable to drive, either for a period of time or for the foreseeable future. Not being able to drive could be frustrating as people viewed driving as a form of freedom and control. Others were content to use public transport which they said was safer, cheaper and easier.
The Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) should be informed of conditions that may affect the ability to drive, including spinal cord injury and seizures triggered after traumatic brain injury. Some people were not aware of this requirement. Christopher only found out after crashing his car on icy roads. The DVLA may revoke licences until people have been assessed by their doctors or by a relevant charity.
Some people talked about having lessons to help ease them back into driving, and some used off road facilities to practice and gain confidence. A man (Interview 7) with a brain injury who had started learning again said, “One of the most important things was learning to drive. It will give me a bit of freedom so I’m not always stuck in the house all day”. But people were also apprehensive. For instance, Daniel wasn’t really worried about driving again, but he thought it would be a good idea to have lesson just to be on the safe side.
Not being able to drive could have implications for people’s partners, or carers, who had to do all the driving.
People were able to lease or buy cars through Motability using the mobility component of their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to finance them. The Government is replacing the DLA for 16-64 year olds with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). If you receive the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of PIP, you can also lease a car via the Motability scheme. Adaptations, such as hand controls or different seat heights were available. There were mixed views about Motability. Some thought it took away a lot of worry as servicing, spare tyres, insurance and so on are all organised. Others thought it was an expensive scheme, and the £75 excess charge for any damage could add up through driving in London. One man suggested Motability was a good way to start driving again.
Some people bought their own cars, or were planning to, and also paid for any necessary modifications. Sometimes cars needed few or no adaptions because they were already largely suitable for people’s needs. Automatic cars were often thought to be easier to drive.
Concessions were also available to people. Blue badges allowed them to park in disabled bays, they were exempt from paying the congestion charge when travelling through central London and VAT exemptions applied to adapted cars, servicing and maintenance. But people found there were difficulties with parking in London. Parking is limited and each borough has different rules that people found confusing and resulted in them getting parking tickets.
The implications of life-changing injuries could make driving more difficult. Memory problems could cause people with brain injury to forget where they parked their cars and people with spinal cord injuries had to learn to transfer into cars from their wheelchairs, which was not easy to do.
Being able to drive again was important to some people and could mark a turning point in their recovery. Bill said that regaining some control through being able to drive again “turned me out of the morose I was beginning to go under”, while it was one of Nick Z’s long term goals.
Driving gave people freedom and independence, and enabled them to do things they wanted to do, like visit friends and family, which were less easy to do using public transport. Elcena said that if she wasn’t able to drive, she wouldn’t be able to participate in as many things as she does now. Driving also enabled people to transport things more easily and to get back to doing the everyday activities they did before their injuries, like going shopping. John said his daughter was “over the moon” when he was able to pick her up from school again because she is disabled and does not like using public transport.
Some people either didn’t drive before their injury or were happy to no longer drive. They felt the roads were dangerous. Jane had her car stolen which she described as a “blessing in disguise”. She found it easier to use public transport.
(See also ‘Benefits and concessions’ and ‘Living in London’).