When someone is diagnosed with dementia, they are legally required to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA – in England, Scotland and Wales) or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA – in Northern Ireland).
It doesn’t automatically mean they will have to give up driving straight away, although this is a possibility.
by post, sending both parts of the driving licence and a covering letter:
Drivers Medical Section
Once the relevant authority has been informed, they might make a decision immediately, or:
contact the person’s doctor for more information
arrange for them to have a health check
ask them to take a driving assessment
They will then let the person know the outcome by letter. There are four possible outcomes:
Their driving licence is renewed
They are issued with a shorter licence, for one, two, three or five years
They need to adapt their car by fitting special controls (this is more likely for physical disabilities rather than dementia)
They must stop driving and give up their licence
If the person continues to drive when they have had to surrender their licence, they could be fined or prosecuted.
If the person with dementia doesn’t inform the DVLA/DVA of their diagnosis, their GP may disclose relevant medical information to the agency. This can be done without their permission but is best avoided if possible, as it can cause distress and resentment.
It is also a legal requirement to inform the person’s insurance company of their diagnosis. If not, their insurance will be invalid.
If the person with dementia has been told they can continue driving, these tips may help them feel safe and confident behind the wheel:
try to drive in daylight and during quieter times
keep to familiar routes and short distances
reduce distractions, such as turning off the radio and limiting conversations
have a passenger in the car to help navigate
If possible, go out in the car with the person at regular intervals so you can see if they are driving safely. If you believe they are no longer safe to drive:
sit down and explain why you are worried. It may help if they also hear this from other family members, friends, or their GP. Stay calm so they feel respected and can see that you recognise that it’s a difficult situation
talk to them about the benefits of not driving – for example, saving money on tax, insurance and fuel
suggest some alternatives to driving, like walking as a way to get some fresh air and exercise, or using their bus pass for free travel
Giving up driving can be very upsetting for a person with dementia. It can cause frustration, a sense of loss, and a loss of independence. It is important to acknowledge their feelings and allow them to talk if they want to.
Speaking to others who have been through the same thing may be helpful. Support groups like memory cafés, online groups and forums offer opportunities to share experiences. You can call the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline for information about local services (see Sources of support).
Driving Mobility Centres provide ‘driver retirement support’ for people who have stopped driving, helping them manage this difficult time and giving advice on other transport options and mobility aids like mobility scooters (see Sources of support).
When someone has to stop driving, it can be difficult for families too.
The person with dementia might blame the person who cares for them for taking away their car, putting relationships under strain. Family members may also see the person stopping driving as evidence of their dementia progressing, which can be upsetting.
Practically speaking, family and friends may be called upon more often to drive them around or accompany them on public transport. And if the person’s partner doesn’t drive, everyday activities like shopping and socialising may become harder.
However, it is still possible to have a fulfilling life after giving up driving. For example, you could:
look for nearby services like support groups and day centres to reduce any social isolation caused by stopping driving
invite friends and family over to your house to avoid having to travel
order shopping online
apply for a Blue Badge, which enables people with disabilities to park for free in disabled parking areas, to make it easier when family or friends take the person out by car (see Sources of support)
set up an account with a local taxi service so you can book and pay for taxis in advance
contact local voluntary services that may be able to help with transport, such as the Royal Voluntary Service (see Sources of support)
speak to the person’s GP or another healthcare professional about the possibility of free patient transport for hospital appointments
look for other enjoyable activities to do together, like going for walks or meeting people in local cafés
with ongoing support and understanding, the person with dementia and those who care for them can successfully adjust to not driving.