Weekly Poll – Driving Assessment Centres (Week Beginning 4 April 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 4 April 2022, we asked a question about Driving Assessment Centres.

Results

Question 1. Have you used a driving assessment centre in Scotland?

  • Yes – 23% (18 respondents)
  • No – 77% (60 respondents)

Question 2. Do you think that Scotland needs more driving assessment centres?

  • Yes – 85% (62 respondents)
  • No – 15% (11 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Driving Assessment Centres

‘Driving assessment centres’ provide a range of services for disabled people who want to continue, start, or return to driving. These include driving assessments, trying out vehicles for suitability, testing adaptations to vehicles. The UK Driving Centres charity provides more information about the type of services usually offered: www.drivingmobility.org.uk.

A total of 18 respondents (23%) stated that they had used a driving assessment centre in Scotland. There was a mixed response regarding people’s experiences of using driving assessment centres.

Waiting Times

It was reported that there can be lengthy waiting times to receive an assessment. This can sometimes leave disabled people without the means to travel independently until the assessment has been completed.

“I had a long wait for an assessment, which meant losing my independence for several months until assessed fit to drive after a spinal cord injury and surgery.”

“When I asked to join the one in Edinburgh, I was told that there was a three-year waiting list which deterred me from using it.”

“I had quite a long wait. Whilst I empowered myself and took the initiative it should be used for others with functional neurological disorder.”

“I booked at the one in Edinburgh (which was given as my only option) and was told the wait would be at least 6 months.”

Adapted Vehicles

Respondents also reported of the lack of suitable adapted vehicles that are available to meet the needs of the individual, which can result in delays to the assessment process.

“When you have a rough idea of what you need to enable you to drive, this information should be passed onto the driving assessment centres. They should prepare for having the equipment to try, instead of waiting until you travel across the whole country to turn up for an appointment you have been waiting a long time for and then told that they can’t assess you because they don’t have the equipment you need. Different vehicles with different adaptations could be moved around the centres as necessary for appointments nearest to people’s homes.”

“I could no longer drive until I could be assessed for hand controls. Eventually, I phoned the centre several times only to be told that they did not have the hand controls I needed (hand controls to the left of the steering wheel) on any of their vehicles so there was no point in coming. I telephoned every driving assessment centre in the UK to be told much the same thing. Eventually, I contacted Motability, who arranged to have the hand controls fitted into one of their driving assessor’s vehicles and he did the assessment so I got the hand controls I required and can now drive again but it took approximately 18 months to achieve. I should not have had to threaten legal action to get what was my right.”

“Even with 7 months waiting list and plenty of advanced notice of specific requirements, the centre was still unable to have the adaptations available for assessment. Customer service is appalling, communication is extremely bad and attitude is that they do all that they can do, time is limited, the waiting list is long, they have a lot of people to see, the disabled driver is clearly expected to know exactly what they want/need. All they did was refer me back to Motability which they could have done over the phone!”

“The options for assessment/trying out adaptations was extremely limited and a total waste of time, a waste of money/cost to get there, let alone the travelling distance, need for overnight stay, stress, etc. It is more about actual driving assessment, not much different to a normal driver testing centre but with a few cars with variations of hand controls.”

Assessment Process

The assessment process involves a series of tests to determine whether an individual can continue to drive after illness or injury. The tests can also help to advise disabled people on vehicle modifications to enable safe driving or passenger travel. Some respondents were critical of the assessment process and questioned the suitability of the tests. This includes an in-car assessment which may take place in locations that are unfamiliar to the individual being assessed.

“The whole basis is to test people in a very challenging way and fail them! My expectation was that I would be given advice on how to drive an adapted car, it was quite a shock to experience an environment which was the absolute opposite.”

“I was unhappy about the report, as some things in it were not true. And other things that should have been covered were not in it.”

“I had three experiences of the cognitive testing and driving, two activities by the same tester who was very critical of my driving. Some of the comments were baseless, but one could not challenge them. When submitting the test letters to the DVLA my licence was immediately suspended. I had to convince the DVLA that I was able to pass the testing. It was a lot of hassle before I could even get back to the driving assessment centre on a temporary licence to be re-tested. With a different tester, it was not a problem to pass the test using hand controls. Overall, it was a stressful experience covering 6 months, to eventually drive a strange car with only 10 hours of hand control practice, then drive for 90 minutes in Edinburgh streets which were unknown to me. I consider myself very fortunate to have passed the testing process and regain my driving licence. The culture and expectation are all wrong, and an able-bodied driver would also struggle to pass the testing.”

“We were assessed by a physiotherapist using a stopwatch for about an hour on cognitive tests, e.g., count backwards from one hundred in units of seven. Naturally, we were completely unprepared and amazed that this was the process there. Then reactions were tested again timed, on a car simulator, for about an hour, followed by a driving test on busy public roads in Morningside in a hand control car which my husband had never driven before. He was cramped in a van, which was the second car he was asked to fit in to, as the first car was too small for his tall frame. All of this was completely inappropriate, and did not fulfil any useful purpose, certainly not the purpose of our visit, which was to get advice on car adaptations. We were very disappointed in the reception, communication, lack of information, poor choice of car to test drive there, and lack of advice from the assessment centre.”

In contrast, a portion of respondents shared positive experiences of the assessment process. This included praise for staff members who conducted the assessment.

“Very good. I have taken an online cognition test remotely and an on-site but off-road test. I thought the whole experience was excellent.”

“My assessment at the Smart Centre at Astley Ainslie in Edinburgh was thorough and well informed. The assessor, an Occupational Therapist, was very compassionate and caring (as well as being competent). This has helped me a lot and is helping me to understand and manage my functional neurological disorder.”

“I used Astley Ainslie hospital. The assessment was very detailed but very fair. The examiner was very good and very supportive. I can’t fault the experience at all.”

“My experience of this was fine and I understand their reasons for telling me to stop driving.”

“Clearly there is far too long a wait to be assessed, and the DVLA are a disgrace in their arbitrary decision taking, but the Edinburgh Assessment Centre is excellent”

Awareness

A number of respondents were unaware of driving assessment centres but recognised the benefits they offer in assisting disabled people to regain some form of independent living.

“I have never heard of them before today, they sound like a great idea potentially for so many reasons too. Some people are excluded from driving just because of a diagnosis that may not affect them in the way people are told not to drive for that could be assessed.”

“These would be valuable for helping people with their driving and make disabled people still keep hold of some level of independence.”

“Great idea that should be publicised more.”

Availability

There is a network of about 80 main and satellite driving centres in the UK, but only two in Scotland, which are managed independently – Driveability Scotland in Glasgow and the SMART Centre, at the Astley Ainslie Hospital, Edinburgh. Per head of population, there is approximately one driving centre for every 2.6 million people in Scotland – compared to 0.9 million in England, 0.6 million in Wales and 0.2 in Northern Ireland.

When reflecting on availability, the majority of respondents (85%) believed that there needs to be more driving assessment centres in Scotland. Respondents noted that by only having two centres located in the central belt, this makes it challenging for people living in other regions of Scotland, who may have to travel a considerable distance to be assessed.

“If there are only two in Scotland, there won’t be one in remote areas of the Highlands. And yet it’s in the remote areas that it’s very difficult to get by without driving due to cuts in bus subsidies, and due to taxis being unaffordable.”

“Having two centres located in the central belt simply isn’t enough. Ideally each region should have one – such as Inverness for the highlands. Otherwise, you’re forcing disabled people to travel long distances just for assessments.”

“There are no way two centres in the central belt serve Scotland – have they seen a map of the country and measured the distances? That is like saying a centre in Bath and another in Bristol could serve all of England – madness. Even with a centre in Inverness you’re not really covering the country.”

“Glasgow and Edinburgh may be ‘central’ but they are still a long way for so many people to travel, especially for those in the North of Scotland. I would like to see centres in the North West and the North East, ideally on the outskirts of big towns but close to good road links.”

“There needs to be at least 1 in every major city in my opinion to save people having to travel.”

“I waited over 6 months for an assessment in which time I couldn’t drive. I also had to travel from Inverness to Edinburgh for assessment. We need more centres to reduce the waits and have centres closer to home.”

“As being a disabled driver for over 18 years I’ve never heard of this service or bodies, but even if I had I’d find it difficult to visit either of the only two centres in Scotland as I live in the North East of Scotland between Dundee and Aberdeen! If there had been a service more local and not a two hour drive away from my home I may have tried different cars, various add on options to make my driving experience better and more client oriented. So, I would definitely agree we need more assessment centres in Scotland to make it easier for us the disabled drivers and why shouldn’t we be treated with equality and in line with the other countries! Isn’t there an equal opportunity act in regard to disability, which obviously isn’t happening with this service!”

Existing Services

A portion of respondents suggested that existing driving test centres could be utilised to offer assessments and advice for disabled people who wish to commence, resume or continue driving.

“To make things accessible utilising existing Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency testing facilities would allow initial consultations in all areas of Scotland including the islands which are often forgotten. Although this wouldn’t allow for testing of adaptations etc. it would allow people who are trained in assessing drivers to provide advice and guidance in easily accessible areas. I’ve previously performed at DVSA medical driving test which seems to cover some of the same things done at these centres. Expanding these tests could be a partial solution to increasing availability without the need for massive investments in new facilities.”

“I think it’s a disgrace that there are only two driving assessment centres in Scotland, and it’s equally disgraceful that they are not run by the Scottish government. There is no reason why they can’t be run from existing driving examination centres, even if only on a part-time basis.”

Driving Instructors

It was also noted by respondents that there is a lack of driving instructors with specific knowledge of adapted vehicles. This creates an additional barrier for disabled people who are looking to regain some form of independence through driving.

“The other thing I wish to point out is, that there are not many disabled driving instructors, they are few and far apart. I had to give up my car some years ago, as I could not find a driving instructor. I think there should be more disabled driving instructors around. I know that I will struggle to find a suitable driving instructor, that is disabled themselves or someone that knows and understands about disability.”

“There are very few British School of Motoring (BSM) driving instructors in the Glasgow area, and I struggled to find one who had an adapted car. The DVLA specified that I must complete 10 hours of instruction in an adapted car. In conclusion, there needs to be a fairer process which allows drivers time through training, to get used to an adapted vehicle, prior to any testing.”

Conclusion

There was a mixed response from disabled people with regards to their experiences of using driving assessment centres. It was noted that there can be long waiting times for an assessment as well as a lack of suitable adapted vehicles. Some respondents also questioned the procedures that are undertaken during the assessment process, including in-car assessments that take place in locations unfamiliar to the individual that is being assessed. The majority of respondents (85%) believed that there needs to be more driving assessment centres in Scotland, given that there are currently only two, which are located in the Central Belt. It was suggested that existing driving test centres could be utilised to provide assessments and advice for disabled people who wish to commence, resume, or continue driving and regain some form of independence.