Well over a year after the process started, I finally got my new driving licence last week. It has been a complex and convoluted process to get here, so I thought it might be useful to pass on what I learned along the way. It is possible that I had a harder job persuading them because I am over 70, but I think that anybody would have had problems with the system at times.
My stroke was in September 2020 and took out my right leg and arm, although fortunately my eyesight, speech and mental processes were not affected. It was pretty obvious from the outset that I could no longer drive my car and I was surprised when a physio told me that it should be straightforward to get a car that I could control with just my left arm and leg.
The first step was that I sent my existing driving licence back to DVLA, having kept a photograph of both sides. I know some people are reluctant to do this even though you are required to do so, but I found that this was not an issue because they do not cancel the licence. If you put your licence number in to the DVLA website it confirms that you still hold a valid licence, even after you sent it back.
I duly got a form to return showing the modifications that I needed in order to drive. This meant arranging an assessment at my local disabled living centre, and of course early last year there were very long delays because of Covid. I paid for the assessment myself but I suspect I could have got myself referred to the centre and avoided this if I had known.
I finally got assessed at the start of July, and this consisted of going for a drive in a modified automatic car with left foot accelerator and a hand control on the steering wheel, which also allowed me to control the indicators. At the end I was told which numbers to fill in on the DVLA form to specify the modifications which I needed, and was sent a written report which said I should do fine but suggested some lessons in a modified car. I duly forwarded the form to DVLA medical group, and after about 4 weeks received a letter requesting a copy of the report, which I had not realised they would want. This letter warned me that reaching a decision could take them as long as six weeks, and in the meantime I ordered an automatic car and booked a couple of lessons for the weeks before it was delivered. About 7 weeks after sending the report, I received a phone call enquiring about my driving and whether I had taken the course of 10 further lessons which the report suggested. In fact I had taken fewer because the instructor said that I had got the hang of the modifications and having further lessons would be a waste of my money. This did not go down very well with the DVLA, even though it wasn’t a requirement for me to take lessons, and in November they wrote to me saying that I would have to undergo an appraisal by a driving examiner at a local driving test centre before they could reach a decision. I was eventually contacted by the driving test people and given an appointment at the start of January. By this time I was regularly driving myself around but I did not want to take any risks and so I had two more lessons in my own car which were very helpful as I got brought up to date on the fashion in driving tests and we went around the driving test centre and saw where it would be appropriate for me to park and which door to use. The appraisal itself was perfectly fine and less demanding than an actual driving test, with no theory test, so the examiner was able to tick all the green boxes for me. I thought that would be the end of it, but after the inevitable 4 week wait I simply received a letter enclosing a blank form like the one that I had sent back in July, asking me to complete it. There was no further explanation. Groundhog Day comes to the DVLA? I started by ringing the official number for the drivers medical group but of course got no response. Fortunately, when I had been in touch by telephone in the autumn I had been given a phone number so I rang the person I had spoken to before, and actually got through. He was very helpful and explained that the problem was that the codes that I had marked on the form I sent in back in July did not match the codes that the examiner had submitted. It seems that there is a lot of ambiguity in how different modifications can be described, which nobody actually explains to you. I should have kept a note of what I filled in and given it to the examiner. Even after discussing what to fill in with the DVLA it has taken a couple of iterations to satisfy them that they really have the right codes to put on the licence, but they finally issued me with one. Phew!
So my top points for anyone starting off on this journey are:
Keep a copy of everything you send to Swansea.
Send everything you think they might want because every time they have to get back to you will add 4 weeks to the process.
Don’t worry about returning your licence, it doesn’t get automatically cancelled.
Be prepared for a lot of waiting - but if you’ve had a stroke you’ll be good at that!