In the driving seat
What you need to know to stay driving for longer and other advice to drive safely.
Information and advice you need to help you love later life. We’re Age UK and our goal is to enable older people to love later life.
We are passionate about affirming that your later years can be fulfilling years. Whether you’re enjoying your later life or going through tough times, we’re here to help you make the best of your life.
This information guide has been prepared by The Leading Care Company and contains general advice only, it should not be relied on as a basis for any decision or action and cannot be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The Leading Care Company Neither nor any companies mentioned in this article accepts any liability arising from its use and it is the reader’s sole responsibility to ensure any information is up to date and accurate.
This article about In the driving seat cover the following
- What this guide is about
- Renewing your license from 70
- Declaring health conditions
- Reassessing your driving ability
- Driving safely
- Adapting your car
- The Blue Badge scheme
- Making the decision to stop driving
- Alternatives to driving
- Getting around your local area
- Traveling by train and coach
- Using the internet to stay connected
- Useful organizations
What this guide is about
Many of us enjoy the freedom and independence that driving gives us, and we don’t want to give it up. There are negative stories in the media about older drivers that can lead to some people losing their confidence on the road and giving up driving before they need to. But, in fact, statistics show that older drivers are relatively safe.
Although your license entitlement will expire when you turn 70, this doesn’t automatically mean you have to stop driving – you’ll just need to apply to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to renew it every three years. The DVLA should send you a renewal form automatically and renewal is free of charge.
However, some medical conditions that older people may develop can affect driving ability, and you must report relevant conditions to the DVLA, whatever your age. Often there will be a way to help you to carry on driving, although in some cases you may have to stop. This guide covers your legal obligations, as well as information about declaring medical conditions, tips on ensuring you drive safely, and adaptations that can help you to do so. It also gives advice about how to decide when it’s time to stop and find alternative ways to get out and about.
As far as possible, the information given in this guide is applicable across the UK.
Renewing your license from 70
If you have a photocard licence, you’ll be used to renewing your licence every ten years. However, once you reach 70, everyone needs to renew their licence and then do it again every three years. The DVLA will send you a D46P application form 90 days before your 70th birthday. There’s no charge to renew.
If you already have a photocard licence, the form will tell you if you need to send a new passport-type photo with your application. If you have a paper licence, you will need to send an up-to-date passport-type photo with your application.
If you don’t receive a D46P form, you can use the D1 Application for a driving licence form. Order it online from the Gov.uk website or ask for one at your local post office. Alternatively, you can renew your licence online at www.gov. uk/renew-driving-licence-at-70. When you register, you’ll be given a user ID code and step-by-step instructions on how to renew your licence.
Remember that if your license expires and you don’t apply for a new one, you won’t legally be allowed to drive.
When filling in the form to renew your licence, you’ll be asked to mention any medical conditions you have. It’s important to remember that you have a legal duty to declare any relevant medical conditions. You’ll also be asked to confirm whether you can meet the eyesight standards for driving. See ‘Declaring health conditions’ on pages 5–6 for more information. If you need prescription glasses or contact lenses to drive, the code 01 will be added to the back of your photocard licence.
Make sure you read any correspondence from the DVLA carefully. For example, the DVLA might send you a letter which states that you can continue to drive as before, or they may send you a temporary driving licence only for use during a mobility centre driving assessment.
Remember to dispose of your expired licence and make sure you keep your new one safe.
The rules about licences for driving anything other than a car, for example, a campervan or a minibus, changed in 1997. If this affects you, contact the DVLA to find out if your licence is still valid.
Declaring health conditions
Some of the medical conditions that you must declare are:
- diabetes – if it is insulin-treated
- any chronic neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis
- any condition that affects both eyes, or total loss of sight in one eye.
You may need to declare other health conditions, depending on what kind of license you have and how the condition affects you. If you are unsure whether you need to declare any health conditions to the DVLA, you can seek advice from your doctor or other health professionals. For a full list of medical conditions and disabilities, you must declare, visit the Gov.uk website at www.gov.uk/health-conditions-anddriving. For example, you may need to declare if you’ve had a stroke or have cancer, depending on how it affects you. For information on driving and dementia see our free guide Living with early-stage dementia.
After you have told the DVLA or DVA about a medical condition, it may:
- make a decision based on the information you provide
- contact your GP or consultant (with your permission) or arrange for a locally appointed doctor or specialist to examine you
- ask you to take a driving assessment, eyesight check or driving appraisal.
Many people worry that if they tell the DVLA or DVA about their medical conditions or disability they’ll be forced to stop driving, but this is not necessarily the case. Having a relevant medical condition doesn’t always mean that your license will be taken away from you.
You may be able to keep your licence or get a new one, or you may be issued with a driving licence for one, two or three years and then reviewed after this period. The DVLA or DVA can also issue you with a licence that indicates that special controls need to be fitted to your vehicle to enable you to drive with your disability. If its medical enquiries confirm you are not fit to drive it can tell you to stop driving.
Remember to inform your insurance provider about any changes to your driving licence or adaptations to your car. Failure to do so could result in a fine and your policy being void.
Reassessing your driving ability
If you’ve developed a medical condition you may need to have your driving ability assessed. Or it may be that you’ve simply decided that you could benefit from an assessment.
Boosting your confidence
If you’re still able to drive but simply want to feel more confident on the roads, or if you would like an honest and independent assessment of your driving skills, you can book an experienced driver assessment.
Many local councils offer driver assessment schemes. You can search for schemes near you on www.olderdrivers.org.uk. Alternatively, you could contact IAM RoadSmart or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for details and costs of their national schemes.
You shouldn’t see this type of assessment as a test – it’s an opportunity to get advice on how to improve your driving.
Mobility center driving assessments
If you have developed a medical condition, you may need to have your driving ability assessed at a mobility center.
Mobility centers have trained staff who can assess how your condition or disability affects your driving and look at what can help, including adaptations that could enable you to continue driving safely.
A mobility center assessment is not a driving test and if at all possible the driving assessors will find a way to help you to continue driving.
The driving ability assessment will include:
- physical assessment to see if you can move your arms and legs easily and operate a car’s pedals and other controls
- cognitive assessment to check your thinking skills
- visual assessment to check your eyesight
- on-road driving assessment in one of their own dual controlled cars.
The assessor will also look at your posture and strength at the wheel, and decide whether there are any adaptations that could help you get in and out of your car and drive more easily and safely. After the assessment, the assessor will recap everything and help you to plan any changes required.
The car adaptations assessment gives you a chance to try out different types of adaptations to see how they suit you. These will vary depending on your needs, but they can include hand controls to use instead of foot pedals, switches to press for the secondary controls such as windscreen wipers, and pedal extensions. For more information about adaptations and how to fund them, see ‘Adapting your car’.
If the assessment shows that your medical condition makes it unsafe for you to drive, the DVLA or DVA can tell you to stop driving until your condition improves. The licensing body will provide you with a medical explanation and, if possible, state when you should reapply. If and when you do reapply you should talk to your GP as you will be asked to provide medical evidence which shows that your condition has improved.
Inform your insurance provider if you stop driving. If you’re stopping driving temporarily due to a health condition, the provider may be able to suspend your insurance rather than cancel it.
Even if you’ve been driving for years or consider yourself to be experienced, it’s important to think about whether you’re driving safely.
The Highway Code may have changed since you passed your test, so it’s a good idea to check it regularly. If you’re worried that you’re no longer safe on the roads, you could consider having your driving ability reassessed.
You may consider driving in conditions that don’t cause you anxiety, for example:
- drive at quieter times of the day or during daylight and on less busy, familiar routes
- plan your route before you set off
- give yourself plenty of time
- avoid driving in bad weather
- avoid doing maneuvers that you find difficult by planning your journey or parking location around them
- don’t be rushed or panicked by other drivers, even if they become impatient.
Check your car regularly and make sure you take it for its annual MOT test by the due date and service it regularly. If you bought your car some time ago, is it still suitable for your needs? Could you choose a car with power steering, parking assistance or bigger windows, or might some adaptations help? Choosing a smaller model might make all the difference to your confidence and could be more comfortable. Power steering and an automatic gearbox may help solve some driving issues.
If you change your type of car, for example from a manual to an automatic, you may want to consider paying for a driver assessment or driver training in your new car. For more information call Driving Mobility, IAM RoadSmart or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)
Ensure you get your eyes tested every two years, or more often if advised, and your hearing checked regularly as sight or hearing problems can affect the way you drive. If you’re prescribed glasses or contact lenses for driving, make sure you wear them. Legally, you must be able to read a number plate from a distance of 20 meters (67 feet) in order to drive. If you have an accident and you do not meet the legal standards of vision for driving you may be fined or prosecuted and your insurance might not cover you. If you’re taking any medicines, ask your GP or pharmacist whether drowsiness is a side effect and take their advice. It is best not to drink any alcohol before driving. If you do, remember to stick to the legal alcohol limit for driving.
Many people in relationships start to rely on their partner to drive when they get older, but if you hold a license you should try to drive regularly. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose confidence and it can be difficult to get back into the driving seat after a long break. IAM RoadSmart and RoSPA offer short courses to help you regain confidence behind the wheel.
Adapting your car
If you have a medical condition or disability that makes it difficult to drive or get in and out of your car, a mobility center should be able to help you decide on some adaptations that are right for you. Having the right car can make a big difference. Contact Driving Mobility to find a local mobility center that can offer advice on suitable vehicles and adaptations, and help you return to driving after an illness.
There is a range of equipment available including car key holders, hoists to lift you and your wheelchair, and special cushions or swivel seats to help you get in and out of the car. It’s sometimes possible to make modifications to car doors and seats. Contact Driving Mobility, Motability or Rica to find out what’s available. Remember to inform your insurance provider if you make any adaptations to your car.
If you’re receiving the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the enhanced mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement, you can lease a car, wheelchair or scooter at an affordable price through the Motability Scheme, run by the independent charity Motability.
Through this scheme, you use your mobility allowance to pay for the hire of the car. You may also get VAT relief on the cost of leasing and adapting it. Motability holds ‘One Big Day’ open days around the country – call the helpline to find out whether there’s one near you. If you’ve applied for funding through the Motability Scheme and are thinking about hiring through a dealer, it’s still a good idea to have an assessment at a mobility center as they can give you impartial advice.
You may also be able to get funding for vehicles and adaptations from charities or other sources. For more information, contact the Disabled Living Foundation.
If your car is an old model, think about upgrading to a newer one. Newer models tend to have helpful safety features such as power steering and anti-lock braking. In some cases, power steering can be tailored to suit a person’s strength. Many new models also feature parking sensors (or ‘beepers’) that can help you to park more easily. Think about whether you would find an automatic car easier to handle than a manual one, or whether it would be hard to adjust.
The Blue Badge scheme
The Blue Badge scheme helps you park nearer to your destination if you or your passenger has severe mobility problems. It gives you exemption from some parking restrictions and access to designated parking spaces.
- free of charge at on-street parking meters and in Pay and Display bays.
- on single or double yellow lines for up to three hours, except where there is a ban on loading or unloading.
Some local councils put additional restrictions on Blue Badge holders; check with the council in the area you’re traveling to find out what the rules are. The scheme doesn’t apply in certain boroughs in London, which offer their own parking concessions. To find Blue Badge parking bays across the UK, check the Gov.uk website.
Making the decision to stop driving
It can be difficult to accept when we’re no longer able to do something safely. But if you think your driving ability has deteriorated or your reactions aren’t as sharp as they used to be, it might be a good idea to consider stopping. If your driving is no longer safe, you may be putting yourself in danger, as well as pedestrians, cyclists, your passengers, and other drivers and riders.
You must stop driving immediately if you have been advised to do so by the DVLA or your GP. If you’ve not been told to stop but your children, grandchildren, partner or someone you are close to thinks you should stop driving, ask them to explain why and try to put your feelings aside. Remember they’re likely to have your best interests at heart. You could also get a second opinion from someone you trust: consult your GP, or get an objective assessment of your driving skills.
Make a checklist of things you currently rely on your cars for, such as shopping, medical appointments, and visiting friends, and think about the alternatives that are available.
If you’re considering giving up driving, you may be concerned about the costs of using public transport, especially if you don’t qualify for the concessions and schemes mentioned in the rest of this guide. But try adding up the amount you spend on car tax, insurance, maintenance, and fuel in a year – you might find that using the alternatives works out the same as, or less expensive than, running a car.
Alternatives to driving
Stopping driving doesn’t have to result in losing your independence. If you think you’ll have to stop driving in the near future, start looking into local public transport and think about how you would get to the places you go to.
If you live in a rural area, giving up your car can be a particularly difficult decision as public transport may be limited. However, you might find there are options you hadn’t heard about before.