DVLA Failings Keeping Disabled Motorists Off The Road Finds Report
Vulnerable motorists are being denied driving licences because of failings in how their fitness to get behind the wheel is assessed, a report has found.
An investigation by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman (PHSO) found people with complex medical conditions and disabilities are unfairly stopped from driving for several years by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) due to flawed decisions, severe delays and poor communication.
The system can also lead to people who do pose a risk to the public keeping their licence and continuing to drive, the inquiry warned.
Eight cases were featured in the report to illustrate the magnitude of the problems.
They include a self-employed lorry driver who had a heart attack and lost his business during a 17-month wait to reverse an order to remove his licence, despite being symptom free.
A piano teacher was left socially isolated and unable to work when the DVLA needlessly prevented her from driving for several years despite her making a recovery from a stroke.
In another case, officials misinterpreted a letter from a GP which explained that because their patient suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome he struggled to keep up with paperwork.
The DVLA wrongly assumed this was confirmation of a medical condition affecting the man’s ability to drive and incorrectly removed his licence.
The PHSO found the licensing agency was not meeting its obligations to make fair and safe decisions, leading to “significant levels of unnecessary inconvenience and distress”.
The problems include:
Fitness-to-drive tests not properly considering all evidence.
A lack of proper criteria to fairly assess people with medical conditions and disabilities.
Guidance about the process not being readily available to drivers or the medical profession.
Poor and defensive complaint handling.
In almost every case investigated by the ombudsman, the driver was eventually given the licence they had applied for.
Julie Mellor, the ombudsman, said: “People’s lives have been put on hold for years because of severe delays and flawed decisions by the DVLA, leading people to lose their jobs, causing stress, worry and isolation.
“DVLA has accepted our findings and has taken steps to address some of the failures identified, such as producing a new guide for medical professionals and improving its complaint-handling and communications.
“But further action is needed to make the assessments of fitness to drive more robust, to prevent others from suffering the same injustice in the future.”
James Taylor, the head of policy at disability charity Scope, said the DVLA should not rely on “outdated assumptions”.
He added: “Transport is a lifeline for many disabled people, allowing them to get to work, live their lives and avoid inaccessible public transport.
“When people are unfairly denied the right to drive they can become isolated and excluded.”
Diabetes UK said some people with the disease might have to give up work because they lose their licence as a result of DVLA blunders.
Nikki Joule, the charity’s policy manager, said: “We get hundreds of calls a year from people concerned about driving in one way or another. Almost half a million people with diabetes in the UK are in regular contact with the DVLA drivers’ medical group. Its poor communication, lack of consistency and absence of clarity can cost people with diabetes their livelihood.”
Nick Lyes, the RAC’s public affairs spokesman, said the DVLA had to balance the interests of people’s freedom to drive with that of road safety: “Use of a vehicle is essential for many people to go about their day-to-day lives and for their professional careers, so any work the DVLA can do to reduce unnecessary delays is welcome.
“Over the last year, it is encouraging that the DVLA has recognised this, and has taken appropriate steps. The average processing time has been reduced from 53 to 38 working days, but we’d still like to see this brought down further. There is a balancing act to be had – it is vitally important that those who need their vehicles and are safe to use them can do so in the quickest time possible, but there is also a duty on authorities to keep our roads and drivers as safe as possible.”
The president of the AA, Edmund King, said: “It is essential that those that are fit to drive are able to do so and equally that those that aren’t fit to drive should not be allowed to put their own lives and the lives of others at risk.”
The DVLA’s chief executive, Oliver Morley, said: “We are sorry for the way we handled the customers’ cases highlighted in the report. These eight very complex cases, however, date back to 2009 and since then the vast majority of the four million cases we’ve handled have been dealt with swiftly and correctly.”
Six people died in Glasgow in December 2014 when Harry Clarke, a bin lorry driver, lost consciousness behind the wheel and the truck careered out of control.
During the fatal accident inquiry into the crash, it emerged he had a history of blackouts which he had not disclosed to the DVLA.