Keeping or stopping driving when you have dementia
Your driving skills are affected when you have dementia
Driving may be an important part of your life. It may help you stay independent as well as being a way of getting to places and meeting up with friends and family. You may drive now, or in the past, as part of your job. Family or friends might rely on you to take them places. Some people just enjoy the activity of driving such as a weekend drive.
To drive safely we need quick reaction times, coordination, and problem-solving skills. As we get older, these skills deteriorate in all of us but more so in people with dementia. When people are told they have dementia, they often worry about whether they will be allowed to drive, or whether they should still drive.
Driving, dementia and the law
If you don’t tell the DVLA about your dementia, you may be fined up to £1000.
If you have an accident you could be prosecuted. Also, not telling may affect your insurance. Find out more about dementia and driving, and the steps to take if you want to keep driving from the Alzheimer’s Society.
Once you notify the DVLA, they will ask you for information and ask your doctor for a medical report.
They then make an assessment. They will inform you of their decision. If they decide you can drive, they will renew your license for between one to three years. They may ask for more information from your doctor or ask you to do an on-road assessment. They may ‘revoke’ or cancel your license straight away.
A dementia diagnosis may affect your car insurance. Tell your insurance provider you have dementia, as the policy may be void if you don’t provide this information. They may raise your insurance premiums.
Choosing to stop driving
Some people with dementia make their own decision to stop driving. You may be worried about causing an accident, getting lost, or are no longer confident in your driving skills. Your family might ask you to give up and you may agree.
If you are unsure about whether you want to keep driving, you can use this helpful booklet to help you work through your decision and weigh up the pros and cons of continuing to drive.
Please note this is a Canadian document and the law will be different.
However a UK guide is available for healthcare professionals.
Be prepared to make steps towards stopping driving
You can start to prepare yourself mentally and practically for when you are no longer able to drive. This will keep you going out, meeting up with people and doing things you enjoy when you stop driving.
Some people stop driving gradually. You might start by only driving to places you go to regularly, or only driving through the day when traffic is lighter (avoiding rush hour). You might use other transport options (see below) to get to some places. Over time you may reduce the places you drive to, such as choosing only to drive to the shops, or to a friend’s home. Getting used to other transport options can make the change from driving easier.
Direct Line insurers provide some helpful tips to help you make the decision to keep driving or to stop.
Some people with dementia are told to stop driving
Sometimes your doctor will advise that you are not fit to drive. Sometimes people fail a sight test. Sometimes family members stop the person from driving or take away their car keys.
Some people with dementia feel angry or sad when they are no longer allowed to drive. They feel frustrated or upset at loss of their licence, their independence, and control. These feelings are understandable. It is very unlikely you’ll be allowed to drive again. There are, however, transport options so you can keep going out.
Strategies from others with dementia
People with dementia describe using different options to get to different places:
- Ask family and friends to drive you. If you have friends going to the same gathering or activity, ask them for a lift. Travelling together can become part of the routine and can cut costs if you share the petrol. Asking a few different people spreads out who you’re getting help from and you get to spend time in the car with different people.
- Change where you go for some services so they are easier to get to without driving. Change your hairdresser, pharmacy, or exercise class so that you can get there by walking or public transport. If possible, go to one place that offers many services, so you only need to take one trip.
- If you use a taxi, try to use the same taxi company or even the same driver. You might be able to ask for the same driver when making the booking (either by phone or using the app). You may be able to make this a regular booking.
- You can get a free bus pass to use on public transport. You may have access to reduced fares on other transport options in your local area. See below for options on financial help and transport. If you haven’t taken public transport for a while, or aren’t confident using it alone, practice with a friend to see if it’s a good option to get to some places.
- Use assisted travel schemes on trains and planes.
- You can get help at the station or airport, when traveling and when you reach your destination. Some people use the sunflower lanyard scheme to let people know they have a hidden disability and may need some support with their journey. Find out more about wearing a sunflower lanyard in Telling others about your diagnosis or read this blog. You can also read Cheryl and David’s story.
- Use services which help with transport, for example Dementia UK offer helpful tips for alternatives to driving.
Start your own dementia toolkit
Financial help and transport
Free bus pass
You can apply for a free bus pass in England and Wales when you reach the state pension age and if you have some disabilities. You must apply to your local council.
You may be entitled to help getting to and from NHS medical appointments. Ask your doctor for information. There is also information on the NHS website
There may be voluntary organisations in your area to help you get out and about. Some national and local organisations provide these services.
The Royal Voluntary Service is an example of a national service which provides transport support, however local organisations may also provide transport. For example, local day services and clubs may provide transport to and from their services.
Important actions to take
- Tell the DVLA that you have dementia straight away
- Tell your insurance company
- Talk to others to help you decide if you want to keep driving
- Talk to family and friends to help you make a decision. Talk about the pros and cons for both.
- Plan for using alternative transport
- Plan how you will get to your usual activities and appointments when you do not drive
- Apply for transport services
- Even if you are still driving, you can apply for a free bus pass or buy a railcard to give you options