Training And Assessment Of Disabled Drivers

The ability to drive gives freedom and independence. Having this taken away can be a headache to the individual and those around them that they become dependent on.

There is a lot of confusion around how to go about getting a licence if you need an adapted vehicle to drive, and what happens to your licence if you suffer some form of disability. Once you have got your licence, does that mean that you can really drive?

There is very little legislation or enforcement on many aspects of disabled driving and as a result there is a lot of confusion. In this article I hope to demystify the licence and assessment issues, and make you aware of some of the services available to assist you in learning to drive and becoming a good driver.

Licences:

In the old licence system, a disabled driver was issued with a Code 12 licence. This allowed you to drive a vehicle with adaptations. Under the new system, you are issued with a standard B or EB (previously Code 8) licence, which allows you to drive a vehicle less than 3500kg with a trailer, however your licence will state whether you have any Driver or Vehicle restrictions. E.g. artificial limb, automatic transmission, physically disabled.

If you applying for your licence for the first time, as a driver with a disability, you need to go through the normal licence testing procedure, exactly the same as any other driver. If you already have a normal licence, the law states that any driver, who has suffered any kind of impairment that can affect their ability to drive (due to injury or illness), must visit their local licensing centre to determine whether they need to be re-tested.

Chapter IV of the National Road Traffic Act, No. 93 of 1996, deals with driver fitness. Section 15 specifically disqualifies people from obtaining or holding a learner’s or driver’s licence if they (amongst other things)

  • have uncontrolled epilepsy
  • have sudden attacks of dizziness or fainting
  • have muscular in-coordination
  • have defective vision

have any other physical defect which is likely to render them incapable of effectively driving a vehicle without endangering the safety of the public.

Section 16 states that you may not wilfully fail to disclose any conditions that would disqualify you. (go to www.acts.co.za/rt_nrta/index.htm for reference to the entire RTA). In other words, if you have had an injury or disease process which has affected your ability to drive, and as a result of this you are only able to drive an adapted vehicle, or your ability to drive may have been affected, then you are required to be re-tested. Your new licence will be issued with restrictions.

Apparently you have 21 days in which to hand in your licence after such an injury or illness. There is, however, a lot of confusion around this re-testing and no enforcement of this policy. Some people who have been to their local testing centres to hand in their licence, (as per the law) have been laughed at, and asked if they are crazy. As a result many disabled drivers have never been re-tested and still drive with their original licence and have never had a problem. This appears to be a simple solution however, if you are involved an accident your insurance may refuse to pay out if your licence has not been endorsed. If the insurance company is aware that you have a disability, they will often not insure the vehicle if you do not have the correct licence.

Assessment:

There is currently no legislated assessment of driving skills for people with disabilities (PWD’s). Where a person has a physical disability, with the loss of a limb, muscle strength or range of movement, it is only a matter of having the right adaptations made to the vehicle in order to get them driving. However, when there is lack of coordination or impaired cognitive functioning, then the testing becomes very involved. For example, a person with Cerebral Palsy or who has had a head injury, may struggle with judgement, decision making, reaction speed, and co-ordination, to mention a few.

These cognitive skills are essential for safe driving and any person who has this type of dysfunction should undergo extensive testing to ascertain that they have the ability to drive safely before they start the driver’s licence process.

I have only found one centre in the whole of South Africa which is able to test driving aptitude. In Gauteng, the Centre for Psychomotor Research and Development (CPRD) (011-396-2271) has a simulated psychometric test which does a battery of tests that are able to test both able body and disabled people, to develop a risk profile for driving.

In the case of a person who was able to drive before their injury or illness, some advanced driving schools are willing to do off-road and on-road testing to evaluate their driving ability. It is recommended that these tests are done in conjunction with an Occupational Therapist who has experience in driving assessment. For driving schools that are willing to do these assessments please see the table (click on the link at the end of this article) otherwise please contact your nearest advanced driving school and ask if one of their experienced instructors could assist.

Vehicle Finance:

Many PWD’s who need specific adaptations to a vehicle in order to learn to drive, find themselves in a “Catch 22” situation. It is normally not possible to get funding and insurance for a vehicle without a licence, but if you need adaptations to a vehicle in order to learn to drive, then you cannot learn to drive and therefore get your licence, without the vehicle. This is where the driving schools that have adapted vehicles play such an important role.

Dion Rademeyer (0824110889) has often been able to assist his clients to get their finance approved, by writing a motivation to the banks to approve funding for a disabled person who has got their learner’s licence but needs specific vehicle adaptations before they are able to learn to drive.

Nedbank have set up a Vehicle Finance package specially designed for disabled drivers and their needs, which offers flexible agreements with interest saving options. They might finance if an individual only has a learner’s licence, however the problem lies in finding vehicle insurance. For details of Nedbank’s finance scheme contact 0860 119 500.

K53 Driver training:

Driving schools and certification of driving instructors is another area that has minimal legislation or regulation. No training or qualifications are required to become a registered driving instructor, as long as you are healthy and have no criminal record. In order to get a driving instructor’s certificate, the applicant must pass a slightly more difficult learner’s licence and K53 driving test in whatever vehicle they will be instructing in. This means there are plenty of driving instructors with poor teaching skills and unscrupulous business practices.

There are also plenty of uncertified ‘driving instructors’. SAIDI (South African Institute of Driving Instructors) is trying to improve the standards of driving instructors, and is trying to persuade Government to introduce more regulation regarding driving instructor training and standards of practice.

In the days of the Code 12 licence, instructors who were training people to drive in adapted vehicles required a B12 Driving Instructors Certificate. I have been unable to establish whether this is still a requirement, even the department that supposedly issues them in Gauteng does not know if they are still required. If anyone can shed some light on this issue I would love to hear from you.

Obviously you need to choose a driving school carefully. If they are a member of SAIDI, it means that they have to comply with the SAIDI code of conduct, and should therefore have a reasonable standard of practice. It is always possible to contact SAIDI to find out about reputable driving schools in your area. (Alida Jones for the Western Cape: 072 616 8221, Pat Allen for Gauteng: 082 683 9292).

When contacting a driving school, I would suggest that you ask the following questions to establish whether you would like to put yourself in their hands.

  1. Are they a member of SAIDI?
  2. Is the vehicle fully comprehensively insured?
  3. Is the student covered by insurance?
  4. Do they have a dual braking system on their vehicles?
  5. Do they use clearly marked vehicles?
  6. Do they have qualified instructors?

There are few driving schools with an adapted vehicle for training disabled drivers and even so, it seems that the service that you get is often dependant on which instructor you are allocated. Unfortunately there is not a lot of choice. (Please click on the link at the end of this article for details of these schools).

Plenty of driving schools are more than willing to train a disabled driver if they have their own vehicle. If you live in the Cape Town area, the Quadriplegic Association of the Western Cape (021 9756079) has an adapted vehicle which is available for hire for driver training at a very reasonable rate.

A large percentage of disabled drivers teach themselves to drive, get a family member to teach them or find another disabled driver who is willing to teach them and allow them to use their vehicle. This method can take much longer as suggested by Douglas Coetzee – a C5 quad who taught himself to drive: “I’m afraid I learned the hard way; which is probably why it took me like 2 years to learn how to drive! Not so much a technical thing, much more about confidence I think.”

Advanced driver training:

Teaching an individual to pass the K53 driving test is one thing, but teaching them to drive properly is another. The K53 system has some very sound safety principles included in it, however it tends to concentrate mainly on checking things instead of how to drive properly and being aware of what is happening on the road. Many of the driving schools just focus on passing the tests, but they do not produce good drivers. This is where it is important to do some advanced or defensive driver training once a person has qualified for their licence. They will often be ‘un-taught’ some of the K53 information, and taught how to be more aware on the roads and how to be predictive and to react on the road. Drivers with disabilities need a lot more than this. These comments from Marius Needham, a paraplegic who was previously a policeman confirm the importance of advanced driver training for drivers with disabilities: “I have driven extensively in both on and off road as an able driver. I was fortunate to have professional training both on high speed driving and search and rescue. When I became disabled I had to adapt all my driving skills. It is nothing to learn to drive both as disabled and able driver, but it is harder for a disabled driver to be taught to protect himself as he does not have full control of the vehicle as an able driver. Take it from me; I drive an average of 325km per day. A disabled driver does not have the same control of a vehicle as other drivers. A disabled person don’t not just need to be taught how to drive, but needs extra training in tactical driving.”

Each person and each disability have different strengths and weaknesses, and it is important that these be identified, and the individual made aware of them in order to know how to compensate for them on the road. For example one C5 quadriplegic driver commented that he does not have the same reaction speeds that he had as an able body driver, nor the strength to brake hard in an emergency situation. He therefore drives very defensively and leaves a large following distance in front of him. Unfortunately Gauteng drivers have no respect for following distances and keep moving over into his gap until, he says “it feels as if I am going in reverse on the highway”!

Any person with no balance in their upper body needs to predict how this will affect them when breaking or going around a corner. I would strongly recommend that all newly qualified drivers as well as anyone who is having to change over to driving an adapted vehicle as a result of an injury or illness, should attend a defensive driver training course. Mandy Latimore, a paraplegic driver, said that attending one of these courses made a huge difference to her confidence on  the road and in her ability to handle her car.

As I have become more aware of the weaknesses in drivers with different types of disabilities, I have tried to ascertain whether disabled drivers are high risk drivers, i.e. are they more likely to be involved in accidents than able body drivers. According to the Department of Traffic Studies in KZN, their database does not record whether incidents involved disabled drivers. However when I discussed this idea with Craig Proctor-Parker, an accident reconstruction specialist, he stated that in his approximate 20 years in this industry, he can recall seeing about 3 serious accidents involving disabled drivers. If this is correct, it suggests that disabled drivers are, in fact, low risk drivers.

The concept of advanced driver training is extremely broad, and covers anything from high speed track training, skid-pan training and skid control, vehicle control training, defensive driving, hijack protection, self-protection, collision avoidance, general awareness and driving foresight.

There is, again, no legislation in this area so each company can do its own thing.

Shayela Approved is an organisation contracted by the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) to consult with training facilities around the country and has developed a set of minimum standards for the training of defensive driving. They have also negotiated with the insurance industry to allow drivers who pass and then keep their certification up to date to get reduced rates from their insurers.

According to Basil Mann, the owner of Shayela Approved, defensive driving is an attitude, a responsible way of thinking and reacting on the road. It is a frame of mind in which we ensure that we drive with the highest degree of skill, safety and consideration for other road users. The features which distinguish defensive drivers from others is the ability to maintain required levels of concentration, and to anticipate, assess and respond appropriately to potential hazards continuously over long periods. By exercising these skills we are able to maintain a space and time zone around the vehicle thus ostensibly avoiding dangerous situations.

Defensive driver training raises the level of a drivers overall effectiveness by increasing awareness, placing more knowledge at a drivers disposal and sharpening skills of observation, perception and forward planning. Basil Mann assured me that any training centre that is Shayela approved would be able to accommodate disabled drivers in their defensive driver programs if they have their own vehicle. A list of these centres is available on their website (www. shayela.co.za).

When contacting advanced driver training centres to find out if they can accommodate disabled drivers and if they have any experience in training people with disabilities, I was blown away with the responses. There was only one company that said they were unable to accommodate disabled drivers as they only do training in their own company vehicles, and they do not have an adapted vehicle. All the other companies said they would be more than willing to accommodate disabled drivers if they have their own adapted vehicle. The AA Advanced Driver Training centre at Zwartkops, Gerotek and the Mercedes Dynamic Driving School, are all looking into training their instructors in the needs of disabled drivers. The Zwartkops Driver training makes use of an in-car camera which can be fitted into any vehicle. They use this to help drivers identify and improve their weaknesses.

It appears that there is a lot of interest in improving the services and facilities available to drivers with disabilities. I hope that in the near future we will be seeing a lot of progress in this area. I look forward to reporting back on this progress in future articles in Rolling Inspiration.

If you are interested in attending an advanced or defensive driver training course and have special driving needs, or any other comments regarding driving with a disability, I would love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at rule@global.co.za

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