After an MS diagnosis you’re bound to have worries about how the condition might impact your independence and freedom: will you still be able to do those ‘normal’ everyday things you always have done? One of the most common questions that our information team gets asked is: ‘Can I still drive?’ For most people with MS the answer is ‘Yes’, but there are some things you need to be aware of
Which MS symptoms could affect my driving?
Everyone’s experience of MS is different and symptoms can vary considerably from person to person. This makes it tricky to come up with a definitive list, but symptoms which might affect driving include numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, visual problems, fatigue, spasms, cognitive problems and weakness. This might seem like a long list, but it’s important to remember that most people with MS are happy, confident and safe drivers. Things like automatic transmission, power steering and height-adjustable seats – features that many modern vehicles now have – can make a difference, and it’s also worth considering making simple adjustments to your normal routine, not driving at night, for example.
Do I need to tell the licensing agency about my MS?
Yes – and this is a big YES. You must tell the licensing agency that you have been diagnosed with MS, and you must also inform them if your MS gets worse. In England, Scotland and Wales that means telling the DVLA (Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency), and in Northern Ireland you will need to tell the DVA (Driver and Vehicle Agency). You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t tell them about a medical condition that affects your driving and you may be prosecuted if you’re involved in an accident as a result, so it is not worth the risk. If you need adaptations to the controls of your car, the law requires this to be specified on your licence too.
What happens next?
They will send you a questionnaire to assess any impact of MS on your driving performance and may need to contact your doctor about your condition. In some instances you may have to be examined by a local medical officer or specialist, or have to take a driving assessment, eye test or driving appraisal. If there is no medical reason to prevent you driving, you will be allowed to keep your licence, but quite often the licence will need to be renewed every three years. Be warned, this can be a lengthy process.
Do I need to notify my insurance company?
Yes, you will need to tell them about your MS and if your car has any adaptations.
What should I do if I need to have my vehicle adapted?
The following organisations and charities can offer you help and guidance when it comes to accessing adapted vehicles:
Driving Mobility (formerly the Forum of Mobility Centres)
A network of independent organisations who offer information, advice and assessment to individuals who have a medical condition which may affect the ability to drive or use a motor vehicle. The centres are listed in our map of MS services.
A national UK charity that helps people in receipt of the higher rate Mobility Component of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) or PIP (Personal Independence Payment) to lease an adapted vehicle, including cars, scooters and powered wheelchairs. See motability.co.uk.
Motoring with multiple sclerosis
Information on choosing, adapting and using a car from Rica, a charity providing consumer research and information for people with a disability. See rica.org.uk/content/motoring-multiple-sclerosis.
The Bike Experience
The Bike Experience is a charity that teaches and advises motorcyclists who have been disabled how they can ride again. The charity has helped hundreds of riders, all with differing levels of experience, get back on a bike in a safe, controlled and fun environment. See tbex.co.uk.
Am I exempt from paying vehicle tax?
If you receive the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the enhanced rate mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) you can apply for free vehicle tax. If you get the standard rate mobility component of PIP you can apply for a 50% reduction in vehicle tax.
What is a Blue Badge and how can I get one?
The Blue Badge scheme provides parking benefits for people with a disability who travel either as a driver or a passenger. You can apply for a Blue Badge at: gov.uk/apply-blue-badge, and your application will then be sent to your local council for a decision.
If you do decide to give up driving, it’s not the end of the world, and there’s no reason why you can’t still visit the places you want to and do the things you love. You can get a bus pass for free travel if you’re disabled, and if you’re eligible you can get up to a third off rail tickets by applying for a disabled person’s railcard.
We asked people on the MS Trust Facebook page for their advice and experience of driving with MS. Here are some of their comments. . .
“I went to the Queen Elizabeth Foundation in Surrey. They tested my reactions and strength and advised me on adaptations. I now use hand controls”
“Push and pull hand controls on both cars I drive. About 10,000 miles a year, on all roads and any time of day. I also ride a motorbike once a year thanks to The Bike Experience”
“I drive an automatic and this has really helped as I use my car to get to work. I try to hold back a bit from the car in front and don’t rush to get anywhere”
“Two years ago I began to notice being hit by extreme tiredness whilst trying to concentrate. I could literally fall asleep at the desk with hardly any warning! It was during a familiar journey in the middle of the day that it happened while driving. I had slept well the night before and hadn’t felt tired in the morning, yet after about half an hour I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the road nearly killing myself, my son and the driver of an oncoming car. Miraculously, everyone was unhurt. I gave up driving immediately. I was 44 and had been driving for all my adult life. Yes, a little bit of independence had been lost but that is infinitely better than having to live with the death of another person”
“I have swapped to automatic and SUV so I have the height. Getting in and out of usual cars was too hard for me and changing gear in heavy traffic was so bad on my legs and my feet would go numb”
“I find cruise control a wonderful help on long journeys. I also find that wearing the anti-glare glasses at night really helps”
“I have just been awarded PIP ‘ongoing’ so get to keep my Motability Skoda (Hettie the Yeti) and her hand controls. I would be lost without it and although it took me ages to literally get to grips with using the hand controls, I don’t think I could use foot pedals again even if the symptoms in my feet resolved”