If it becomes difficult for you to use public transport or drive a standard product car, your life can become very restricted and as a consequence independence will be very difficult to achieve. There are many (though still not enough) transport schemes and services run by local authorities, voluntary and commercial organisations. The Department of Transport produces an excellent guide called: Door to Door – A guide to transport for disabled people. Published by HMSO – for your nearest HMSO bookshop see the phonebook, or contact the HMSO Publications Centre. (See “Other Information” for address.)
Developing arthritis before being able to learn to drive should not present you with a major problem – so don’t be put off by well intentioned people who may well say you shouldn’t entertain the idea. This is often based on a lack of knowledge about what practical help is available to you. Providing you can meet the standard eye test for driving you should be able to achieve your goal. If you are in receipt of the ‘higher rate – mobility component’ of the Disability Living Allowance you can apply for your provisional driving licence on your 16th birthday as opposed to your 17th birthday, which is the minimum age for driving a car. A list of driving instructors trained in helping disabled people to drive is available from Banstead Mobility Centre. (See “Other Information” for address.)
The level of your physical impairment will determine what type of car will suit you best and what, if any, adaptations you will require. Seek advice first – this will save you a lot of heartache, and money! Go for a comprehensive independent assessment at an accredited driving assessment centre (details of your local centre are available from Banstead Mobility Centre). An independent assessment centre will provide you with a written report detailing any adaptations you may need to enable you to drive independently. Not everyone needs special adaptations – it depends on how your arthritis affects you. For some people a car fitted with power assisted steering and/or automatic transmission may be satisfactory. You can also send a copy of this report to the DVLA if you have any difficulty with getting your licence. Equally this will help you if you have any problems with insurance companies. Remember the law states that you must advise both DVLA and your insurance company if your arthritis affects your ability to drive in any way.
If you are in receipt of the ‘higher rate – mobility component’ of the DLA (your parents may well have been receiving this on your behalf – so you will need to get it transferred into your name) you can then apply, in your own right, for a car under the ‘Motability Scheme’. (See “Other Information” ) This could be a new car either through their hire scheme (you have to return the car after 3 years and effectively start all over again) or, through their hire purchase scheme (you will own the car once all the hire purchase payments have been made). Under the hire purchase scheme you can purchase a second- hand car, although there are restrictions on the age of the vehicle.
However, before coming to any decision, you need to look very carefully at the various options open to you under the Motability Scheme, and if there are any other sources of finance available to you.