Experiencing a mental health problem, whether it be a bout or ongoing, is daunting and lonely in itself. The worry that it may also take away independence and freedoms on top of that is of no greater comfort. However the issue of driving and mental health is one that we do need to discuss. Not least because like so many other aspects of mental health, it is an issue that is overlooked. For the interests of both road safety and personal wellbeing, it cannot afford to be. More of us need to be aware of the risks as well as our rights on the road, and with today being World Mental Health Day, there’s no better time for us to start.
Firstly, it is important to state, having a mental health issue does by no means automatically deem you unfit or unsafe to drive. However there are some conditions that have been recognised to impair certain abilities such as concentration, rationality and reflexes. Medications that may be prescribed are also another factor that has to come into play. So for this reason, it is required (and it really is important to do this) that you inform the DVLA if you have been formerly diagnosed with any of these listed conditions: Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, psychotic depression and schizoaffective disorder. This is so that they can advise on any steps you may need to take to help keep you safe and confident on the road (check any of your health conditions against the official DVLA list).
For other conditions such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders, it is not compulsory to declare, unless you or those around you feel that it is having a noticeable impact on your concentration or memory, (as this could certainly affect your driving ability). This being said, we would advise discussing your personal situation with your doctor or counsellor to alleviate any risk.
As someone who lives with a mental health issue, you will already be aware of the inconstant and unpredictable nature of such illnesses. In this respect, it is important to note that you should inform the DVLA if your condition changes or you get a new diagnosis
There is still a huge stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health. We understand that telling a friend, family member or employer is hard, let alone having to tell a stranger who can then decide if you are able to drive. To put it in perspective, one slightly uncomfortable conversation is nothing compared to the possibility of putting others at risk. This would only cause more distress and issues in the future. You could end up invalidating your insurance and having to pay a fine up to £1000 or perhaps be prosecuted if you have an accident and have not declared a listed condition.
If you have a diagnosed mental health condition, your doctor would have already discussed driving with you and recommended whether you should speak to the DVLA or not, but you may still have concerns or questions about your rights. If this is the case, settle them and your mind. You can contact the mental health charity MIND’s legal line here: 0300 466 6463. They also have some useful driving information online as well as guidance on how to inform the DVLA.