Penny Bellis represented drivers with dyspraxia at a recent consultation on new driving test

On behalf of the Dyspraxia Foundation, on Thursday 12th November 2015, I attended a disability consultation by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency at the Driver Training Academy at Cardington, Bedfordshire.

I enjoyed meeting bopenny bellis picth the DVSA staff and the other delegates.  The presentation was given by driving test examiners, who were good company and very approachable.  The other delegates were from organisations representing people with cerebral palsy, the deaf, autism and chronic regional pain syndrome.

The consultation was about the development and implementation of a new DVLA driving test.  It began with a presentation about the proposed changes given by Paul Halbing, followed by a demonstration of both the current test and the proposed new test by Neil Wilson, Neil Smith and Graham O Bryan. The main change was an extension of the current ten minute independent drive to twenty minutes, to be facilitated with a satellite navigation system.

Other changes introduce driving activities hitherto discouraged, but which most drivers do anyway.  The DVSA believe that by introducing those activities into test,  the risks can be better managed.  These activities are driving forward into parking spaces – necessitating a reverse out; and safely parking on the offside of the road, with a reverse to drive forward away.  In contrast the reverse round the corner exercises is going to be scrapped.   The driver will be required to demonstrate one of the car’s controls such as windscreen de-mist or rear screen wiper whilst driving along.  They will also be required to tell when certain maneuvers are safe and when they are not.  Much of the test remains the same.

My observations from the point of view of a dyspraxia driver are as follows:

  1. My interpretation was that use of the Sat Nav was a big advantage to us.  The current ‘independent drive’ either involves the candidate being directed to follow series of road signs; or a park up where the examiner explains a route lasting ten minutes, which the candidate memorises and then drives.  Both these have obvious disadvantages for those of us with memory and planning problems.    The examiner provides the sat nav which has preset routes.  The driver does not need to touch it.  The candidate does not see the route, just the road view.  By using the sat nav, much of the formality of the situation and interaction with the examiner for directions is reduced and the driver merely follows the sat nav in the same way that he / she has practiced with the instructor.  The staff point out that greater diversity of driving environment can be used with better flow to the test.  This was evident to us, on the initial part of the drive, the sat nav independent drive seemed to me to be the easier part of the drive and an opportunity to settle into the test.  Rural driving often formed a greater part of the test, which I thought for us would be easier.   It was acknowledged that there was some distraction by the use of a sat nav but argued that perhaps less than turning to look in interacting with the examiner.  This was particularly relevant to the deaf delegate who did the road test, in the habit of lip reading.
  2. I explained that many of us have problems with knowing left from right under pressure and confusion with verbal directions. The Sat Nav in my opinion will reduce this.  The staff informed me that any confusion between left and right (or other route directions) is disregarded in their assessment.  If you turn the wrong way, they will take it in their stride and adapt their instructions accordingly.  This is OF COURSE provided that you don’t do anything dangerous when you make the error.  Also if you declare your disability in advance – or if it becomes apparent during the drive that you have a problem with left and right they will agree a form of instructions that you are happy with.  I pointed out to them that with short term memory repeated instructions on a turn is appreciated and they say they will give as many as required with no penalties, provided you behave safely.  Sat Nav of course is very helpful in this regard.  On the same theme there is extra time and reasonable adjustments for those with disability.
  3. I pointed out that if I am typical, some of us have difficulty in judging our speed. I asked if it was OK to use cruise control to ensure the right speed.  They said that it was a good thing to do.  Driver candidates don’t usually use it, but they would be impressed if they did.
  4. I said that we have difficulties with judging distances such as in parking and asked about parking sensors. They said that they are happy for you to use parking sensors, either as standard or extras fitted.  However, they would expect you to make an effective visual check as well.
  5. I said that difficulty in judging distances was also relevant to overtaking, but they didn’t have any suggestions to help us with that except for training and experience under supervision.
  6. Finally I explained that some individuals amongst the dyspraxia community were reluctant to learn to drive, feeling that it was anti-social and inappropriate for them to drive because of their special awareness or other dyspraxia related difficulties. We discussed that a qualified driving instructor will ensure that whatever your skill level that you learn in a safe way.  When the instructor believes that you are ready for test, you can undergo it and pass.   If you then continue to drive the way you are taught you will drive safely for yourself and other road users.  So No guilt. What that means is if you want to learn to drive then just do it, and if you don’t then fine.  They point out that there are specialist driving instructors trained to teach people with specific learning difficulties.

The situation currently is that the Transport Research Laboratory are halfway through trialing the new DVLA test.  Some testing stations and some instructors across the country are signed up to the trial and some are not.  Those driving instructors who are signed up to it are funneling their students through the new system.  The driver candidates undergoing the new trial test are rewarded with free iPad, vouchers and / or a chance to win a new car.  For this, they complete follow up surveys over the six months succeeding the test, so that researchers can evaluate comparisons of both systems.