Driving

Just because you’ve been diagnosed with dementia, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t drive any more. However, depending on how your condition progresses, there may come a point when you will not be able to drive safely any longer.

This page explains the impact of dementia on your ability to drive over time, who you should contact about your diagnosis and when you should consider giving up driving.

How does dementia affect my ability to drive?

Driving involves a complex set of skills that take a long time to learn. You need to have quick reactions to things that are happening around you, prolonged concentration, the ability to read and interpret signs, and the capacity to plan and remember where you’re going. “Learned skills” such as these are often retained for a long term after diagnosis.

However, as dementia progresses, the impact on your memory, sensory perceptions and ability to react to things may become so severe that you may eventually lose the ability to drive. This is often about three years after diagnosis.

What to do after diagnosis

If you’re not sure whether you should be driving, you can take a driving assessment (see below).

If you’ve been diagnosed with dementia and want to continue driving, you should contact the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVLA) as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’re breaking the law and could be fined up to £1,000. If you decide not to tell the DVLA, but your doctor is concerned about your ability to drive, they’ll be able to contact the DVLA without your consent.

You should also contact your car insurance company. If you don’t, your insurance might become invalid.

When contacting the DVLA, you need to inform the DVLA of your diagnosis and provide your driver number on your licence along with contact details. This is what should happen next:

  • The DVLA will send you a questionnaire asking for permission from you to contact your GP or specialist
  • Once you’ve returned the questionnaire, the DVLA will contact your GP or specialist for medical information. They’ll use this to make a decision about whether you can continue to drive.
  • The DVLA might ask you to take a driving assessment (see below), or, if no assessments are available, a driving appraisal (the equivalent of a driving assessment but in your own car).

If the DVLA decides you can carry on driving, they’ll issue you a new driving license that lasts for a limited time period (usually one year).

If the DVLA decides you can’t carry on driving, you’ll have to return your license to them and stop driving. You can appeal the decision by lodging an appeal with the Magistrates’ Court within six months of the decision, but you can’t drive in the meantime.

Driving assessments

If you or the DVLA are unsure of your ability to carry on driving, you’ll normally take a driving assessment at a mobility centre. If you’re taking one independently, it’ll cost you between £50 and £130, but if the DVLA have asked for you to take one, they’ll pay for it.

A driving assessment is not the same as a driving test – allowances are made for the impact dementia is having on your condition and the bad habits that drivers get into. You’ll have a session on the road, a test of your reaction speed, and an interview with an occupational therapist.

What you can do to make driving easier

Here are some tips from the Alzheimer’s society on making driving easier with dementia:

  • Drive regularly to maintain skills and confidence
  • Drive short distances on familiar roads
  • Do most of your driving in daylight and good road conditions
  • Have someone in the car with you to help you navigate

If you’re thinking about giving up driving

If you want to give up driving, you should return your licence to the DVLA.

Giving up driving can be a difficult change, especially if your care is a key source of independence for you and the primary means of visiting family and friends. But if you’re getting more and more irritated when driving, feel at risk of having an accident, or are simply losing your confidence, it is worth considering whether you should stop. You’ll be weighing up safety concerns against the impact on your mobility and convenience.

If you’re worried that giving up driving will be a difficult time, you should talk to your family and friends about how they can help and what can be done to adapt. You might be in an area where public transport services are regular. If so, you should read our guidance on how to make sure you’re getting discounts and concessions on travel. Using public transport can be much cheaper than running a car, and can leave you being able to afford a taxi trip once in a while if you want to get to a particular place with ease.