Driving is an important source of independence and enjoyment for many people, but the skills it involves are often affected by dementia.
For this reason, when someone is diagnosed with dementia, it’s essential to consider whether they are safe to drive – at the time of diagnosis and as their condition progresses.
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.
You can notify DVLA Medical Enquiries:
- by phone: 0300 790 6806
- by webchat
- by post: Drivers’ Medical Enquiries, DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1TU
In Northern Ireland, you can notify DVA Medical Issues:
- by phone: 0300 200 7861
- by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- by post, sending both parts of the driving licence and a covering letter: Drivers Medical Section, DVA, Castlerock Road, Waterside, Coleraine, BT51 3TB
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.
Often, it’s better if the person with dementia stops driving voluntarily. This reduces the risk to them and others and allows them to feel more in control of what can be a difficult situation.
If the driver decides to surrender their licence, they need to inform the DVLA/DVA.
In England, Scotland and Wales they should use the Declaration of voluntary surrender for medical reasons form.
In Northern Ireland, they should send both parts of their driving licence and a covering letter explaining their condition to the DVA at the address above.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
To speak to a dementia specialist Admiral Nurse about driving or any other aspect of dementia, please call our free Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December), email email@example.com or you can pre-book a phone or video call with an Admiral Nurse.
Dementia UK resources
- Government advice on dementia and driving
- Driving Mobility Centres
- Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA – England, Scotland and Wales)
- Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA – Northern Ireland)
- Motability – vehicle leasing scheme for people on certain disability benefits: 0300 456 4566
- Blue Badge scheme
England: 0343 100 1000
Scotland: 0343 100 1001
Wales; 0343 100 1002
- Blue Badge scheme – Northern Ireland: 0300 200 7818
- Royal Voluntary Service (RVS)