Disabled Drivers Are Getting a Raw Deal

A combination of factors makes driving an uphill struggle for disabled motorists. From parking spaces to the price of fuel, plenty of aspects of driving frustrate able-bodied drivers, but these are compounded for their disabled counterparts.

On paper, there are some advantages: the minimum driving age is 16, drivers are exempt from vehicle excise duty, some can trade their mobility allowance in for a new car and the blue badge scheme allows them to park closer to destinations. But in reality, complications arise and barriers – often literal – come down that affect independence and quality of life.

Qualification and Lessons

A provisional license is meant to take less than three weeks to come through but disabled applicants can face longer waits as their cases are reviewed. While some disabilities rule applicants out entirely, those that do receive their provisional licenses then have to source driving instructors qualified to teach disabled drivers. Depending on the areas they live in, there can be a significant shortage of instructors and adequate cars.

Cars

Disabled drivers may need to adapt their car to provide rotating seats, hand-controlled accelerators and breaks, extra safety belts, wider doors and much more. Those who receive the high rate mobility component of the Disabled Living Allowance can get these alterations financed through Motability, but that does not cover all motorists and a draft proposal going through Parliament looks set to drastically reduce the number of people with access.  Disabled drivers can also find the process of insuring their cars difficult, with some mainstream insurers poorly prepared to deal with covering an adapted car and disabled driver. Specialist insurers like  are popular because of their tailored, informed approach.

Fuel

Fuel prices have hit everyone in the pocket but for road users who have little option but to drive, the rise in costs is even more worrying. With many disabled motorists unable to earn and reliant on benefits that have been frozen, each penny-per-gallon rise – there is 3p rise scheduled in August – is a danger to independence. Other countries allow disabled motorists a rebate on fuel tax, but not the UK. And while the London Congestion Charge does not affect disabled motorists, there are no guarantees the same policy will be followed when the scheme spreads to elsewhere in the country.

Parking

The problems caused by fuel do not stop at the price: refuelling is difficult and the rise of unmanned service stations has led to a growth in the problem. Physical incapacity is of course a huge issue, and this is starkly illustrated in car parks. Driving controls are ever-more advanced, allowing more and more disabled drivers but ticket machines and barriers are poorly designed for these users, especially those with upper-body disabilities. The Blue Badge system has proved successful in enabling disabled drivers to park closer to their destinations but it is open to abuse and often ignored by other motorists. Adequate street-parking is hard to come by and kerbs are often completely unsuitable for wheelchair users, forcing them to seek out disabled bays. Their concentration in official car parks means disabled drivers are often forced to pay high hourly fees, with hospitals among the worst offenders.

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