Driving skills are affected by dementia
For many people, driving is an essential part of life. Driving often means more than independently getting from place to place, it forms part of our identity and lifestyle. Driving can represent freedom and avoids having to ask other people for assistance. The thought of giving up driving can be a really difficult topic.
Driving is a complex activity that combines visuo-spatial skills (this includes using vision to understand how far away other stationary or moving objects are, how fast they are travelling and in what direction), attentional skills, reaction times and memory. The brain combines information from our senses to rapidly form judgments about what actions to take, and then the person needs to accurately perform those actions. Dementia will affect these skills, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the type of dementia.
Inform your driving authority and insurer
In Australia, it is not mandatory to give up driving on receiving a diagnosis of dementia. However, Australians are legally obliged to tell their state or territory’s driver licensing authority about medical conditions that may affect their ability to drive, including dementia. If the driver’s licensing authority is not informed, the doctor may do so. In South Australia and the Northern Territory, it is mandatory for the doctor to tell the driver’s licensing authority. The insurance company needs to be informed of a dementia diagnosis. Not telling the insurer may compromise or void the insurance.
The driver’s licensing authority may ask your person’s doctor to provide an assessment of their ability to drive or may request a driving assessment. If the doctor doesn’t think that they are safe to drive, their licence may be revoked. The doctor may refer the person for a Fitness to Drive assessment. Fitness to Drive assessments are usually conducted by occupational therapists or a private, licensed driving instructor. These assessments usually have an off-road component, where skills like vision and reaction time, are assessed and if these are considered sufficient, an on-road practical test is conducted.
Fitness to Drive assessments can be expensive, costing between $500 and $800. There may be a wait of several months to get an assessment and it is important to note that while waiting for a Fitness to Drive assessment, the person driver’s licence may be cancelled.
If the Fitness to Drive assessment is passed, the person may need to reapply for a licence if previously cancelled. They may be given a conditional driver’s licence, which usually lasts 12 months, or sometimes as little as 6 months. Conditional licences specify conditions such as only driving in daylight hours, only driving a certain distance from home and remaining under a certain speed.
Support your person to tell the drivers licensing authority
- Support your person to inform their driver’s licensing authority and insurer of their diagnosis.
- Book a Fitness to Drive assessment if required.