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Tips for driving safely

Even if you’ve been driving for years or consider yourself to be experienced, it’s important to think about whether you’re driving safely.

1. Have regular eye and hearing tests

If you’re prescribed glasses for driving, make sure you wear them and ensure that your faculties are good enough to be safe on the road.

See 'Caring for your eyes' for more information

2. Maintain your car

Check your car regularly and take it for an annual MOT. If you’ve had the same car for a while, consider whether it’s still suitable for your needs.

3. Be comfortable

Drive only when you feel comfortable doing so. This could mean avoiding bad weather or at rush hour, for example, if it makes you feel anxious.

4. Read the Highway Code

It may have changed since you learnt to drive, so it’s worth refreshing your knowledge. Download it free from GOV.UK, or buy it from a bookshop.

5. Adapt your car

If you have a health condition or disability that makes it difficult to use your car’s controls, there’s a wide range of adaptations that can help.

Sometimes just upgrading to a newer model with power steering can make a world of difference.

6. Follow your instincts

It can be hard to accept when we’re no longer able to do something safely. However, if you feel that your reactions aren’t as sharp as they were, or your ability has deteriorated, you should consider whether it’s time to stop.

Alternatives to driving vary from area to area, but it’s worth researching what’s available, particularly if you think you will need to stop driving soon.

If you’re older or disabled you may be entitled to a free bus pass and discounted rail and coach travel. There may also be a community bus service, taxi token scheme, or dial-a-ride minibus service in your area.

Declaring health conditions

If you’ve developed a medical condition or disability that could affect your driving, you must tell the DVLA, even if you’re not yet due to renew your licence. This also applies if your condition has worsened since your licence was issued.

Many people worry that they’ll be forced to stop driving, but this is not necessarily the case. It’s a legal obligation for you to declare certain conditions.

If you have an accident where your health condition may have been a factor and you haven’t declared it, you could be prosecuted and your insurance might not cover you.

Which conditions should I declare

Some of the medical conditions that you must declare are:

  • dementia
  • diabetes – if it’s insulin-treated
  • Parkinson’s
  • epilepsy
  • any chronic neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis
  • any condition that affects both eyes, or total loss of sight in one eye.

Other health conditions may need to be declared, depending on what kind of licence you have and how the condition affects you.

Check the GOV UK website for a full list of medical conditions and disabilities you must declare

For example, you may need to declare if you’ve had a stroke or have cancer, depending on how it affects you.

What happens next?

After you’ve told the DVLA, it may:

  • make a decision based on the information you provide
  • contact your GP or consultant (with your permission) or arrange for a local doctor or specialist to examine you
  • ask you to take a driving assessment or eyesight test.

Having a medical condition doesn’t always mean that you will lose your licence.

You should be able to continue driving if your condition doesn’t affect your ability to drive safely. Or else you may need some help to adjust or make adaptations to your car.

Sometimes the DVLA will issue you with a driving licence for 1, 2 or 3 years and then review things again in the future.

The DVLA can also give you a licence that shows you need to fit special controls to your vehicle to help you to drive with your disability. Unfortunately, it can also tell you to stop driving, if you’re not fit to drive.

Renewing your licence online at 70

Once you reach the age of 70, your licence expires – but this doesn’t automatically mean you have to stop driving. You just need to renew your driving licence if you want to continue and then every 3 years afterwards.

The DVLA will send you a D46P application form 90 days before your 70th birthday. Renewal is free of charge.

If you have a photocard licence

To renew, just fill in the form and return it to the DVLA with both parts of your current driving licence – the photocard and its paper counterpart.

You may also need to include a new passport-type photo – the form will tell you if you need to do this.

If you have a paper licence

To renew, fill in the form and enclose your current licence, a passport-type photo, and an original document showing proof of your identity.

This could be your passport, the official letter confirming your eligibility for the State Pension, or your biometric residence permit (formerly known as the identity card for foreign nationals).

Renew online

You can also renew your licence using the GOV UK website. You’ll have to register and you’ll be given step-by-step instructions on how to renew.

If you don’t receive an application form

In the unlikely event that the DVLA doesn’t send you an application form:

  • call the DVLA form ordering service on 0300 790 6801 
  • order a D1 form online
  • or go to the Post Office and ask for a D1 form ‘Application for a Driving Licence’

Reassessing your driving ability

If you have developed a medical condition, you may need to have your driving ability assessed. Or you may not have a medical condition, but have decided yourself that you could benefit from an assessment.

If your medical condition or disability makes it more difficult to drive, there may still be a way to help you to continue driving, for example, with the aid of suitable vehicle adaptations.

A Mobility Centre can advise you on the best options for your particular circumstances and the DVLA can refer you (and pay for the assessment), but there may be a long wait.

It can be quicker to refer yourself but you will have to pay – the cost varies depending on the centre.

If the assessment shows that your medical condition makes it unsafe for you to drive, the DVLA can tell you to stop driving until your condition improves.

In this case, you’ll need to reapply for your licence if, and when, you’re able to drive safely again. The DVLA will provide you with a medical explanation and, if possible, state when you should reapply. Talk to your GP before reapplying for your licence.

What happens at a Mobility Centre assessment?

At your assessment, the Mobility Centre staff will ask what issues and concerns you, your doctor or family members have. They’ll then assess your driving ability and/or potential car adaptations.

Remember, the driving assessors are not trying to catch you out – if it’s at all possible, they’ll find a way to help you to continue driving.

The driving ability assessment will include:

  • a physical assessment to see if you can move your arms and legs easily and operate the pedals and other controls
  • a cognitive assessment to test your reactions
  • a visual assessment to check your eyesight.

The assessor will also look at your posture and strength at the wheel, and decide whether there are any adaptations that could help you get in and out of your car and drive more easily and safely.

After the assessment, the instructor will recap on everything and help you to plan any changes. The car adaptations assessment gives you a chance to try out different types of adaptations to see how they suit you.

These adaptations will vary depending on your needs, but they can include:

  • hand controls to use instead of foot pedals
  • switches to press instead of the secondary controls, such as windscreen wipers
  • pedal extensions.

Adapting your car

If you have a medical condition or disability that makes it difficult to drive, a Mobility Centre should be able to help you decide on some adaptations that are right for you.

There’s a range of equipment available including:

  • car key holders
  • hoists to lift you and your wheelchair
  • special cushions or swivel seats to help you get in and out of the car.

It’s also sometimes possible to make modifications to car doors and seats.

Motability scheme

If you get the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the enhanced mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement, you can lease a car, wheelchair or scooter at an affordable price through the Motability Scheme, run by the independent charity Motability.

Through this scheme, you use your mobility allowance to pay for the hire of the car. You may also get VAT relief on the cost of leasing and adapting it.

Motability holds ‘One Big Day’ open days around the country – call the helpline to find out whether there’s one near you.

If you’ve applied for funding through the Motability Scheme and are thinking about hiring through a dealer, it’s still a good idea to have an assessment at a Mobility Centre as they can give you impartial advice.

Upgrading your car

If your car is an old model, upgrading to a newer one might help. Newer models tend to have helpful safety features, such as power steering and anti-lock braking. In some cases, power steering can be tailored to suit a person’s strength.

Many new models also feature parking sensors (or ‘beepers’) that can help you to park more easily. Think about whether you would find an automatic car easier to handle than a manual one, or whether it would be hard to adjust.

The Blue Badge scheme

If you or your passenger has severe mobility problems, the Blue Badge scheme lets you park nearer your destination than you might otherwise be able to. It gives you exemption from some parking restrictions and access to designated parking spaces.

Blue Badge holders are exempt from certain parking restrictions, including being allowed to park:

  • free of charge at on-street parking meters and in Pay and Display bays
  • on single or double yellow lines for up to 3 hours, except where there is a ban on loading or unloading.

While the scheme operates throughout the UK, there are small variations in its application in Northern Ireland. Some local authorities put additional restrictions on Blue Badge holders; check with the local authority in the area you’re travelling to find out what the local rules are. The scheme does not apply in certain boroughs in London, which offer their own parking concessions.

Do I qualify for a Blue Badge?

You can qualify for a Blue Badge if one or more of these criteria applies to you:

  • you get the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA
  • you receive a War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement
  • you are a registered blind person
  • you have received a lump sum benefit from the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces Compensation Scheme (within tariff levels 1-8). You must also have been certified as having a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking
  • you have a permanent and substantial disability which means you are unable to walk or have very considerable difficulty in walking (you will need to show that this criterion applies to you and you may have to be assessed by a medical professional such as physiotherapist or occupational therapist)

How do I apply for a Blue Badge?

You can apply direct to your local authority, or online via NI Direct

Disabled parking bays

If you are a disabled driver and have difficulty parking close to your home, your local council may provide you with a parking bay outside or near your home.

In most cases the bays are provided on an advisory basis, meaning they're not enforceable by the police and therefore rely on the goodwill of other drivers not to park in the bay. This also means that the bays are intended for any disabled badge holder to use – not just the applicant.

Some local councils may decide to provide disabled bays using a traffic regulation order. This would make it legally enforceable and a vehicle found parked in a bay without a badge would be subject to police enforcement action. These bays are also usually available for any disabled badge holder not just the applicant.

Eligibility criteria for applying for a disabled parking bay vary between different councils: some require that you hold a Blue Badge, others that you are receive the higher rate mobility component of DLA.

Considerations before granting a disabled parking bay

Following the application, an investigating officer will assess the site and consult with neighbours before making a decision.

The cost the bay varies from council to council - some provide them free of charge and others impose a charge ranging from £10 upwards.

Making the decision to stop driving

It can be difficult to accept, but if you think your driving ability has deteriorated or your reactions aren’t as sharp as they used to be, it might be a good idea to consider stopping - you may be putting yourself in danger, as well as pedestrians, your passengers and other drivers.

If your friends, relatives or partner think you should stop driving, ask them to explain why, and try to put your feelings aside. Remember they’re likely to have your best interests at heart.

You could also get a second opinion from someone you trust: consult your GP, or have an objective assessment of your driving skills.

If you’re considering giving up driving, you may be concerned about the costs of using public transport, especially if you don’t qualify for any concessions.

But try adding up the amount you spend on car tax, insurance, maintenance and petrol in a year – you might find that using the alternatives works out the same as, or less expensive than, running a car.

Find out more about public transport and concessions

Further information

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575

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