Driving and arthritis

What does the law say about driving with arthritis?

If your arthritis affects your driving, you must inform the DVLA (Drivers Medical Group at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) in Swansea. If you're in Northern Ireland, you need to contact the DVA (Driver and Vehicle Agency).

When applying for a provisional licence you must declare that you have arthritis. You'll have to pass the same test as other new drivers, but you may be allowed extra time.

It's unlikely that a person with arthritis would be asked to retake their driving test, but you may be issued your licence for a shorter period or you may need to adapt your car with special controls.

If your doctor tells you to stop driving because of your medical condition, you must send your licence to the DVLA.

Some people with arthritis ask if they have to wear a seat belt. By law, you must wear a seat belt unless you have a medical exemption. It's better to adapt the seat and seat belt height for your comfort.

There are also adaptations available if you find it difficult to fasten your seat belt. Ask your occupational therapist about these.

Where can I get information about driving and arthritis?

Driving Mobility is a charity that helps people with medical conditions which may affect their ability to drive or get into a car. Your regional centre will be able to help with:

  • driving assessments – the assessor can give advice on how to make driving easier and on gadgets (for example, panoramic mirrors and seat belt aids) which can help
  • practical advice on special car adaptations, such as swivelling seats, wheelchair hoists or steering wheel knobs
  • passenger assessments to see how you can get in and out of a car more easily.

The assessments aren't driving tests and they won't be reported to the DVLA, although it's still important to tell the DVLA about anything that could affect your ability to drive.

If you're learning to drive and have arthritis, it may be useful to visit a driving assessment unit. Members of the Forum of Mobility Centres also offer this service. You'll have to pay for an assessment.

You'll need to tell your insurance company that you have arthritis but, since the Equality Act (2010), car insurance shouldn't be any more expensive because of your condition. Shop around to see who gives the best quote.

You'll also need to check with your insurance company and ask your doctor whether you can wear splints or a collar while driving. But remember, if your arthritis causes dizzy spells when you turn your neck you shouldn't be driving.

Blue Badges

You may be eligible for a Blue Badge for parking, which can be issued from your local council. If you don't automatically qualify you'll need an assessment by your local council, who may ask your doctor to confirm your disability.

You're automatically eligible for a Blue Badge if you:

  • receive the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • receive Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and scored eight points or more in the 'moving around' area of your assessment – make sure that you check your decision letter if you're unsure.

If the above doesn't apply to you, you might still be able to get a Blue Badge if:

  • you have permanent difficulty walking, or your doctor says that this difficulty is likely to last at least a year
  • you cannot use your arms due to arthritis or another condition
  • you're applying on behalf of a child over the age of two who has difficulty walking, or a child under three who needs to be close to a vehicle because of a health condition, including arthritis.

If you're not automatically eligible for a Blue Badge, it might be slightly more complicated to fill in the application form. If this is the case, it might be worth getting some help, for example from someone at Citizens Advice.

Buying a car

If you're buying a car you should consider a model with power-assisted steering and automatic gears. These require less effort to use. You could also try the extra features suggested below:

  • a padded steering wheel cover, which makes gripping more comfortable 
  • a supportive headrest, which is essential for your neck 
  • a moulded backrest
  • a panoramic rear-view mirror and blind spot mirrors added to the wing mirrors, which may help to give a better view if you have limited neck movement.

What about finance?

If you're receiving one of the following mobility allowances you may be able to join the Motability scheme and lease a car, scooter, powered wheelchair or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle:

  • the Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (HMRC DLA)
  • the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment
  • the War Pensioners' Mobility Supplement (WPMS)
  • Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP).

You must be in line to receive one of the above benefits for at least the next 12 months.

If you receive any of the benefits above, you may not have to pay road tax. There is more information about financial help you may be entitled to  and how to apply, on GOV.UK.

How can I make driving more comfortable?

A few simple rules can make driving much more enjoyable:

  • Adjust your seat and mirrors carefully every time you get into the car.
  • Don’t drive when you’re tired.
  • Don’t drive for longer than an hour at a time on long journeys – get out and stretch your legs to avoid stiffness.
  • Ask your doctor if any of your medication affects your ability to drive.
  • Join a breakdown and recovery service for peace of mind.

What about outdoor electric vehicles?

If you feel that car driving isn't for you then you might consider buying an outdoor electric vehicle. Some things to think about:

  • They can be bought with your Mobility Allowance or PIP.
  • You don't need a driving licence.
  • You don't have to pay road tax.
  • They can be driven on the pavements but not on paths marked ‘cycles only'.
  • Second-hand models are available.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t provide outdoor electric vehicles at present.

For further advice you could see an occupational therapist, or talk to someone at your local mobility aids centre or rheumatology department.

It's a good idea to try out the vehicle before buying.