King of the road: giving up driving.

“Sir, based on the information you’ve just provided you’re going to have to stop driving immediately and return your licence to us.”

The DVLA Drivers Medical Group know how to tell it like it is. That was the end of the conversation I had with them two days before my brain biopsy. Of course it was something I’d known was coming for quite a while. I already knew the risks of a biopsy and the post-operative side effects would make me unsafe on the roads. As a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists since 2004, and having volunteered as an Observer to help other people achieve membership, safety has always been my paramount concern.

Still, internally I raged at this decision. But I’m a good driver, I reasoned with myself. Not good enough at this stage of my diagnosis. Dangerous, in fact.

At one of the last consultations with the neurosurgeon a couple of weeks before any surgery took place I revealed I was still driving. She was taken aback. It wasn’t illegal but she strongly urged me to give up driving. As it happened my car was in the hospital multi-storey car park that day, my wife and daughter were with me and I judged it just about acceptable to drive everyone home, garage the car and call DVLA in due course. My wife couldn’t drive at the time but has subsequently passed her test. I just didn’t have the energy to deal with the fallout of having my car collected as I’d been OK to drive to the hospital an hour earlier.

At the last consultation with the neurosurgeon prior to the biopsy, the clinic was running late. My wife suggested I joke with the neurosurgeon that “she’d need to make the consultation quick as my pay and display ticket was running out for the car.” I didn’t make this joke but I thought it exceptionally funny.

The DVLA revoked my licence as I didn’t have a diagnosis at the time. I was experiencing double vision and about to have my biopsy so the default position was to revoke the licence. I then had a duty of disclosure to the insurance companies to keep my two cars insured against fire, theft and third party damage, and it was part of my finance agreement on one of the cars to ensure comprehensive insurance was in place. I couldn’t simply SORN the cars, lock them up in a garage, hoping for the best. My wife only had a provisional licence at the time and the underwriters wouldn’t accept it for a main driver because she would have to be accompanied by someone with a full licence but my entitlement was revoked. The solution turned out to be relatively simple. I put my mum as the main driver on one of the cars, wound the mileage allowance down to a couple of thousand a year, fully disclosed that the car would be in our garage and my parents live an hour away. This was all acceptable and my premium actually decreased. The other car I owned outright and my wife could be insured on it as soon as she passed her test. A different insurer, different rules and no outstanding finance to worry about, an agreement was made. If you’re in a similar situation, see if the underwriters can give you a set of conditions to satisfy.

More pertinently, the loss of my driving licence felt like a huge loss. I’d wanted to drive ever since I can remember, loved cars since forever and every time I set out on a journey I actively enjoyed driving. My first driving lesson was the day after my seventeenth birthday. The feeling of independence was a total joy. As a young boy I used to look at the patch of tarmac that connected our suburban house driveway to the road, realising that our driveway was connected to everywhere in the country, and just a short ferry trip to the continent. My very favourite country to drive in has been France.

I wasn’t always a good driver. Far from it. I had a few accidents early in my driving career which at the time I perceived as not being my fault. After writing off two cars and a van I decided that perhaps there was some further training I could do. I joined the Institute of Advanced Motorists, retrained over twelve months and have been safe ever since. I had a minor accident on the motorway with my wife in the car just before our daughter was born a couple of years ago. Without my extra training it could have been a major incident but resulted in nothing more than a new bumper and bonnet being required.

To bring the story up to date, I’ve submitted all the licence reapplication paperwork to DVLA. Speaking with people at the local support group, their advice was to ignore the DVLA’s published timescale of a decision within six weeks. I would be looking at somewhere in the region of twelve weeks just to get paperwork in the right place from my consultant and/or GP. Neuropschology confirmed there was no impairment with decision making or visuospatial ability. My double vision has been fixed with the addition of prisms to my glasses. Five and a half weeks after submitting everything to DVLA I received a response to say they’d written to my consultant. Just this morning I received a letter calling me for an updated MRI scan at the end of August so I imagine my consultant wishes to review my scan and see me in clinic before responding to DVLA. My consultant may elect to stick to the rule of twelve months elapsing from the end of primary treatment. If he decides to recommend I regain my licence (under annual review) I think DVLA will take around four weeks to make a decision. This makes a total timescale of fourteen weeks and they may still not accept my reapplication.

If you’re in a similar situation, get any relevant tests done and perhaps try to coordinate your paperwork going in nice and early with a decision being made around the time twelve months have elapsed since primary treatment concluded.

The location of my tumour is not well defined and the DVLA’s guidance is currently undergoing revision. In fact, there’s a movement to providing slightly more leniency to those drivers with low grade brain tumours (page 12) who are not suffering from seizures. Below is some guidance I found and may be useful to you. In the meantime I have my fingers crossed that I’ll be driving again by Christmas.

I realise how lucky I am to be in a position to be considering driving again. It may not work out for me and I’ll have to find a way to deal with it. I know in a lot of cases it’s just not possible and if you hold a licence for lorries and buses then the rules are very strict.

Good luck if you are reapplying.

DVLA – Assessing fitness to drive

DVLA – Medical Conditions

DVLA – Reapply for a driving licence following a medical condition

DVLA – Brain tumours and driving

DVLA – Information Leaflet 94 Customer Service Guide

Cancer Research – Brain tumours and driving

The Brain Tumour Charity – Driving and brain tumours

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