The diagnosis of dementia can be scary both for those being diagnosed and for their family and friends. Lodders’ Sofia Tayton, one of the UK’s leading experts on care and capacity law, has warned of the potential dangers of someone continuing to drive after their diagnosis.
Sofia Tayton, head of Lodders’ Care and Capacity team explains: “I really felt for a client recently when her daughter came in for advice on how to stop her from driving.
“My client had been diagnosed with dementia a few years ago – the daughter was now so worried about her mother’s safety on the road that she had taken to hiding the car keys.
“This was causing my client to distrust her carers, as she thought they were taking the keys and going off in her car. It was all a bit of a mess,” she said.
The legal position & the DVLA
The legal position is straightforward – a driver must tell DVLA if they have been diagnosed with dementia. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to £1,000, and they may be prosecuted if they are in an accident as a result of their illness.
Notification should be sent to DVLA by completing and submitting form CG1 (available online)
The form asks for details about a driver’s GP, consultant, clinics, medication and care that they receive, with the aim being to collect information from the medical professionals involved.
At this stage, a driver’s GP may have already advised them to stop driving, simply to allow assessments to be carried out. On receipt of the medical reports, DVLA may then also ask the driver to take a driving assessment – including an interview and tests of reaction time and vision, plus an on-road session.
Should the DVLA decide that the driver is safe to continue on the road, they will issue a licence that is valid for a limited period, after which time further assessments will need to be carried out. If DVLA decide that the driver is not safe to continue, they must surrender their licence. There is an appeal process but the driver will not be allowed to use their car until a final decision is made.
Licences may be surrendered voluntarily. Many people with dementia choose to stop driving because they begin to find it stressful.
They begin to misjudge speed or distance; find themselves straying across lanes or hitting kerbs; feel at greater risk of having an accident; or cause passengers to have concerns. They can even get lost on roads they know well.
Giving up driving – which is equivalent to giving up independence – is not easy. However, the impact of dementia on memory, reactions, perception and the ability to perform a number of tasks at the same time means that the ability to drive will be lost at some point.
It is possible for a driver’s GP, or anyone concerned about a driver’s ability, to contact DVLA in writing and ask for a medical investigation.
This is perhaps a position of last resort though, as it would be far better for the driver to be encouraged to accept their condition, to comply with the law, and to explore alternatives to driving.
The Alzheimer’s Society have some helpful suggestions.
Sofia said: “The nature of dementia is such that people with it may lack insight into their own condition and limitations. Having regular, calm and sensible discussions about driving, and perhaps suggesting a driving assessment, has to be the starting point.
“Acknowledging how difficult the decision may be for the person is vital. Driving may have been their main means of transportation and it can lead to them feeling like they are losing their independence. It may be helpful to point out some alternatives to driving as well as the benefits and costs savings.