A-Z

Life-changing injuries

Driving

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.
 
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The DVLA withheld John's licence until his driving ability was assessed. His licence now...

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Is the mobility component of your DLA now entirely devoted to the payments for your car?
 
I think it is. I don’t think I’ll get nothing back. When I went to Citroen, because I went via Motability, I went for the test driving assessment. I submitted my licence before I even went to the test to DVLA. I said to them, “Circumstances have changed. I’m an incomplete paraplegic.” I told them, “T12 L4.” And they said, “Could you send your licence in?” Which I did. They withheld it, and they said, “We’re going to revoke it until you go for your assessment.”
 
And where did you have to go?
 

I went to a driving assessment in [place name], which Motability paid for me to go. I don’t know how much it cost, but they paid for it anyway. And I passed that assessment first time. And then they gave me my licence back, sent my licence back. I’ve got a disabled on my licence and I can only drive hand controlled vehicles. So that was a bonus and a big plus for me, because it gives me a bit more freedom to get around to shops and places. So, it changed my life a bit, although I haven’t used it. I’ve only done a hundred miles in it so far. 

 

After his operation to fit a titanium plate in his skull, Daniel developed seizures. He cannot...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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Why are you not driving at the minute?
 
Simply because of the metal plate. You’ve got to have a year’s clearance to drive after the plate, because it could again, because of the seizures, like it could take six, seven, eight months before I could have had a seizure and then obviously if I’ve got drive, if I’m driving and I have a seizure do you know what I mean? It’s not really the well way forward, so obviously they’ve given me time for the year to like see how the seizures are going to fold out and stuff like that. But even now – I was petrified, I thought I would never drive again and stuff like that. But now, obviously I know how to deal with it and stuff like that now. It’s good.
 
When you start driving again do you think you will have any worries about that?
 
Any worries? Obviously I’m not to me I really don’t think so. Well to be on the safe side like, just in case, I have a few like lessons and stuff like that, just to get back into the grips of driving and how, how I’ve like gone through it like. Just in case, like any anxieties and stuff like that, like to be on the safe side. Yes, I really, again positive, not, not doing no negativity at all.
 
That’s something you’re looking forward to?
 

Yeah, rather than just thinking just in case I have another car crash or something like that. I’m not even thinking about that. That was just gone. I can only have another one, but not have, what’s it called a big like, before, that was a mistake kind of thing. I have learnt from it definitely… but positive.  

 
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Christopher's ability to drive was assessed based on his neurologist's observations.

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
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Did you make a conscious decision to give up driving or how did that come about?
 
Oh that It came about by accident. I hadn’t driven when I was in my first hospital and they were talking about discharging me, because I could walk and talk and do all the things. I was perfectly okay. There was a recognition that I needed some further care and I could go to some hospitals that specialise more in outpatient care. And one of the hospitals I went to, talked to my wife and said, “Well of course he’s given his licence in hasn’t he?” To which we said, “No, the accident happened abroad.” Nobody had ever asked us for the licence, nobody ever told us about it and it was only through a bit of research on the web by my daughter who said that DVLA say that if you recognize that you need to give your licence in, they will give it back to you when the doctor says it’s okay to give it back to you. But it was an interestingly grey area. Very grey. But then I find if you have a head injury you are required by the DVLA to give your licence back. And so you can either have it withdrawn by DVLA or they take it back. And I could see a situation where I might be involved in an accident and then being told, “Well you haven’t got insurance because you haven’t got a licence because DVLA say you can’t”. So, but this is only sort of came about by accident rather than being told.
 
I had to have a letter from my neurosurgeon originally to get my licence back from DVLA and that was based on his observation of my behaviour not on any particular tests per se. But I could quite easily see where I would fail on certain tests as I did when I went to go and see the neuro for the insurance. There are certain issues that I knew I wasn’t meeting, but they’re quite fine, very fine. And if I was just a shelf stacker in Tesco’s it wouldn’t matter, but yeah, what do you want to do? And where’s your bench mark?

 

 

Nick Z’s reactions and physical capacity to drive were assessed at the Queen Elizabeth Foundation.

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
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Well there’s a charity called the Queen Elizabeth Foundation, which is down in Carshalton in Surrey, who have a simulator, a driving simulator, which they assess your physical and reactionary capabilities. And then they have a range of adapted cars that you can try out and they have a very small track with, you know, corners and bends and obstacles and traffic lights and, for you to try out, and then they write a report and then you have to send that to the DVLA who then amend your licence and, if necessary, get you to undertake some new instruction and, if necessary, retake a test. So I’ve just started that process now.
 
Okay and have you any sort of positive or negative thoughts about driving again?
 
Well I mean it would be a great achievement if I were able to do it. So that is one of my long-term rehabilitation goals. I’ve no anxieties about it. I mean I… as I said, I’ve been assessed. I know I’m capable of it, but the thing that is stopping me at the moment is my inability to transfer. So that’s what I need to work on. And, you know, I expect to be able to, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take.

 

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.
 

Adrian didn’t think he would be able to drive after having to learn to walk and talk again after...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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But the thing is again I can drive a car, get in a car, what’s so strange, I had been in rehab about a year or so, and my dad said to me, “Do you want to drive again?” I said, “I’d love to. But if I can’t walk or talk driving a car’s not easy.” “Let’s go to [place]. There’s a research centre at [place]. We’ll find out. I’ll come with you.” That’s cool. Went there, and when we arrived there, we signed in, so they give me the keys, and I said, “Hang on, I’ve had a head injury. I’ve not driven for a year or two and I’ve had to have to walk and talk again, and you’re asking me to drive a car?” “Yeah, come oh, I’ll be with you. It’s fine.” And I went in the car with her. I started the car and I just drove, in the secluded area. But I, I pulled away, clutch, brakes, change of gear all easily and I’m thinking, what the hell’s going on? But because my long-term memory’s good, I’m thinking I shouldn’t be able to do that because I had to learn again to walk and talk but it was easy.
 
Yes.
 
Just going back in. And it taught me how good the long-term memory is. How retentive it is. It’s fine. Yes.

 

Not being able to drive could have implications for people’s partners, or carers, who had to do all the driving.
 
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She has fibromyalgia and gets tired and sore after long periods in the car. She would like her...

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I mean another thing is that he can’t drive – he hates that – because of the epilepsy. Once he’s been free for one year, he’ll be able to start back up again, but so far he hasn’t, he hasn’t been free for a year. So at the moment he can’t drive. And that’s another thing he finds very frustrating.
 
And what does it mean for you that he can’t drive?
 
Obviously I have to take him everywhere, you know. When we go Wales, it’s like from where I lived in Wales it’s a three and a half hour drive. I suffer with fibromyalgia, which affects all my muscles, so it’s very, very hard to drive all the way there and I’m like exhausted by the time I get there. So, obviously if [husband’s name] could drive, we could share the driving. But obviously that’s not the case. And when he needs his appointments at the hospital, at the doctors, well basically no matter where we go in life I have to drive. So, it will be nice if [husband’s name] does get his licence back again that we’ll be able to share it, yeah.

 

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.
 

Elcena thinks car manufacturers have been listening and taking mobility needs into account. Her...

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Age at interview: 61
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And tell me about your particular car. Did you have to have any modifications done to it?

 
No. Because I picked one that is high enough and the steering move itself. So this is, I suppose the car manufacturers themselves they get better at listening. The steering can come up and go down you know. And the seats are adjustable as well. It’s quite good. Because that way it would minimise the actual equipment that I need for myself, because the wheel can move backward and forward and go up and go down. That way you can adjust it to suit you, to suit yourself. And that, that car was good for me.
 
And is it an automatic car?
 
Automatic, yes.
 
Great and why did you pick an automatic car over a manual car?
 
Because at one time my hand was too arthritic. I have arthritis in both hands as well. And it was too difficult. So if you just have manual, at least, if you have an automatic at least it’s easier, just to, to drive along.
 
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.
 

Sam was thinking about creating an app to provide parking information for each borough. He is...

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Age at interview: 29
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But if you live in London it’s so shit. Every borough has different parking things. 
 
I was thinking about making about making a Blue Badge parking app to help people find it, but and make me some money, but I just couldn’t be bothered, because I don’t, I think this is just sort of prohibitive, the rules, particularly around Central London, Kensington and the City, that I just think that people in wheelchairs just don’t go there that much, because it’s, I mean it’s so prohibitive. It’s really like inconsiderate and unhelpful. And, you know, I get, I get so many tickets. And do you know, you appeal them, you learn – this is a good bit of advice – don’t just say, “You’re a cunt. Why have you given me this ticket?” You know, even if you think they’re totally wrong, you’ve just got to like play past them, like, “I’m sorry. It seems to me that this may have happened...” And yeah, yeah, just be meeker than you really are and you’ll get more of them. If you get angry or the tone becomes kind of aggressive, they just, they just don’t let you off them so… And to be honest, they just don’t let you off any of them really, they just, they’re dicks, they’re trying to make money. And the rules are different in every borough. It’s a nightmare. So that’s a complaint. 
 
Plus the fact that there are so many people with Blue Badges who don’t bloody need them. You know, the symbol is a wheelchair. I’ve had, I was at the Royal Festival Hall, going to see a play. And I parked in the disabled bay. This woman ran up to me, and goes, “Excuse me, are you meant to be parked there?” I said, “What the fuck is wrong with you? This is my wheelchair. What the fuck is wrong with you?” And I don’t know. I’m sure the rules are quite strict, but they don’t seem to be strict enough, or it would be better if there was something. I never really see a guy in a wheelchair getting out of a car ever. I see lots of people parked in Blue Badge bays and they look like the children of old parents, you know, like middle aged people that are like, “Well this is like an easy way of parking.” There’s fuck all Blue Badge space in Central London anyway. Yes, parking’s a pain in London, but driving is a joy. So you know, get a car.

 

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.
 

Adrian has problems with his short-term memory so he makes notes to help him remember where he...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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Yes, because I’m able to… Yes it is, and yes it’s not. I’m able to do many things I’m also limited on certain things. I’m also aware that I’m limited on memory, short term memory and stamina. So I know, because of my limitations I gotta be aware of what if? What if? What if? So for example, when I park my car I make notes where my car’s parked, because I know tomorrow or maybe in an hour’s time I’ll forget it. I can drive because my long-term memory is good. I can drive. You ask me where I’ve driven or where my car’s parked, I don’t know. I don’t, because I don’t know if I can tell you, it’s a worry. Yes, it’s what ifs again, what ifs, what ifs, what ifs. Yeah. 

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.
 

The first time he drove his adapted car, Bill felt liberated.

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Age at interview: 57
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But eventually I asked whether or not he could have asked the insurance company, but the accident wasn’t my fault, whether or not they’d buy me an automatic car, because I had a manual car. It was quite new the car wasn’t it that we had, it was only two years old? I think we were still paying for it I think at the time, so you know, very small mileage on it. But I couldn’t drive it. And eventually we got an automatic car. And I remember getting into this car, when we picked it up or it was delivered. I think it was delivered. And I went out and drove it for the first time and I felt so liberated because I could feel I was going somewhere at the speed that was normal, and I felt part of the world again, and after that I started, started carrying keys, started having money in my pocket, credit cards, and started doing things again. But it was the point of being able to control my life again in a manner that I was able at the speed that was normal, but turned me out of the morose that I was beginning to go under. 

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’). 

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.

 

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