11 Tips for Learning to Drive with a Disability

I found learning to drive really difficult.  I had lessons over two years, and I don’t even want to begin to work out the cost of that.  Neither of my parents had a car, and so my lessons were my only chance to practise.

I found it hard to coordinate everything due to my then undiagnosed Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and had awful muscle pain from using them in a different way.  I could never have more than an hour lesson as my ankle and foot would go dead, and I found it all very exhausting.   In addition, I was also very nervous/anxious, and just thinking about my test caused me to shake like a leaf, which then made me make loads of stupid mistakes.

But my worst mistake was my choice of instructor.  I picked a lady who stated she specialised with nervous drivers – but this couldn’t be more wrong.  Her style of teaching was to keep quiet while I drove, but then ask me to pull over and ask “Where do you think you went wrong on the roundabout five minutes ago?”  When I didn’t know/couldn’t remember she’d get cross.  She spent all the lesson pointing out my mistakes, with the atmosphere getting more fraught.

As time went on, I found instead of growing in confidence I became totally convinced I would never pass.  It felt too awkward to ‘fire’ her, so I continued with this situation for far too long, ending numerous lessons in tears.

I then went to university, which gave me an opportunity to get a new instructor.  He was completely different – calm, more positive and quickly my confidence began to increase.   I decided that before I took my test I wanted some more intensive lessons – more than the one a week I was having, but my packed university schedule meant that was impossible.  So I spent my Easter break having lessons every day for two weeks, with a test at the end.

I failed.

However, it wasn’t the total disaster I thought it would be.  I got a major for hesitation because on the way back to the test centre a bus stopped in the middle of the road.  I couldn’t see around it, and being quite a busy road I thought I’d be likely to meet on-coming traffic if I went ahead.  We waited about thirty seconds, and then continued – but I apparently should have gone.  I think it was a little harsh, but there you go.

My second test was back in my university town.  I was a hundred times more terrified.  My legs were shaking so hard I kept stalling, and I made silly mistakes.  At one point I tried to start the car three times in a row, and it kept stalling.  I couldn’t understand why, until I realised I hadn’t put it into gear.

As we pulled up back at the test centre, my instructor who was waiting outside looked over to see how I’d done.  I shook my head.  I’d been a mess.  My test examiner asked what I’d just said to him, and I said I didn’t think I had any chance of passing.  She responded, “Well I disagree.”  She then handed me the pass certificate.

I can’t even begin to explain how I felt.  I know everyone feels joy at passing their test, but I had convinced myself so thoroughly I would never ever pass, and it had taken so long, and being able to drive was completely life changing.  I think it does take on an added meaning when you have mobility problems.

At that point my mobility was going downhill rapidly, and I was struggling to get around the university, and also the long trip home on the train (through London on the tube).  But overnight my world opened up – I could get to the shops, see friends, and go home whenever I wanted.

That was almost six years ago.  I was lucky I took my test before my condition got like it is now – I’d really stuggle with the lessons, but there is lots of help available to help people with disabilities.

Here are some tips I learned in the process to help you pass when you have a disability:

  1. You need to be comfortable with your driving instructor.  Even if they’re nice, or you’re scared of hurting their feelings – it’s your money, your time and it needs to be right.
  2. Make sure they fit your learning style.  I tend to do a lot better when someone tells me what I did right, instead of making me feel bad by making a big deal out of everything that went wrong. Either explain that to them and hope they’ll adjust to your learning style, or move on if they don’t.
  3. Explain your health issues to them.  They can make adjustments – such as trying to make the seat more comfortable, mixing in practical parts of the lesson so you get a break, or pointing the direction they want you go as well as saying right/left if you have any processing issues.
  4. Your instructor can request you assessor points the direction they wish you to go in your test as well as saying left/right if you have dyslexia or processing issues.
  5. If you can provide supporting evidence, you can request additional time while taking your Theory Test or Practical.  Make sure to explain any physical issues to your examiner so they’re aware if you struggle to turn, or whatever the issue is.  You can also ask for a disability specialist assessor, who should have had additional training in this area.
  6. Make sure you detail all your needs when booking either your practical or your theory.  The last thing you want when you’ve just arrived at the centre when you’re so nervous you can’t think straight is to start having to point out things that aren’t accessible to you.  And if you’ve already told them, you’ve covered yourself and it isn’t your problem – it’s theirs.
  7. If you can’t make it to the test centre for your Theory Test (for example it’s not accessible to you) it’s sometimes possible to take your theory test at your home.
  8. There are specialist instructors/cars out there if you need an adapted car, or someone used to working with people with disabilities.  Ask for recommendations, or ask bigger driving schools if they have an adapted car on their fleet.
  9. If you receive High Rate Mobility Disability Living Allowance or the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment you can apply for your provisional driving licence at the age of 16, instead of the normal 17, which is really helpful.
  10. Motability and other charities sometimes offer assistance towards learning to drive when you have a disability.  If you’re working then it’s also worth approaching Access to Work if driving would enable you to remain in work, or make life easier for assistance with lessons.
  11. If you need help to find the right adapted car for you, places like the Forum of Mobility Centres or the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People can help.

Remember it may take you longer than someone else, but you will get there in the end.

Also check out this great post by Disabled In Scotland who details adaptations that can be made in the car, and the different route he took to find the right instructor for him.  There are also some great tips here for deaf drivers.

Do you have any tips to share that helped you?  Did you find it a struggle to pass your test, or was it a breeze?

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2 Comments

  1. Well done for sticking with it, my test was the most nervous I have ever been ( even more nervous than getting married) you managed to get through the nerves and show you can drive safely

    I’m sure driving gives you great pleasure, long may it continue to do so :-)

    Reply
    • Thank you, and you too!

      I now struggle to drive – I can only do it for very short distances when I’m up to it, but it still like to do it when I can. It makes me feel independent and normal, and would be gutted if I ever couldn’t drive, and would feel the world had closed off to me.

      And the same to you, Lisa!

      Reply

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