Driving is a very important part of everyday life, promoting independence and providing a means to get to work, meet friends and enjoy leisure activities. It is therefore not surprising that one of the most common questions asked when people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s is how the condition will affect their ability to drive.
Parkinson’s and driving
Although some people find that driving is affected by their symptoms and the medication they take, many others continue to drive safely for years after diagnosis. Your doctor is the best person to advise on your fitness to drive. Any legal obligations must be complied with, but even when difficulties arise, these can often be overcome by using special equipment, adaptations and techniques that make driving easier.
Legal obligations, insurance and tax
Your legal obligations will depend on the laws of the country in which you live, but those likely to be applicable in all European countries are outlined below.
- Notify your national driver and vehicle licensing body that you have Parkinson’s: they will advise you of the steps you need to take to retain your driving licence. This may involve contacting your doctor to confirm your fitness to drive, a medical examination or a driving test. Some countries may issue a licence for a fixed term, usually renewable provided your ability hasn’t deteriorated sufficiently to make you unfit to drive.
- Inform your insurance company: you should tell the company of any health change that may affect your driving. In most countries it is an offence to make a false statement or withhold information for the purposes of obtaining a certificate of motor insurance. Anyone who drives when considered unfit will invalidate their insurance cover.
- Report any changes in your driving ability to the driver and vehicle licensing body and your insurance company: all drivers have a responsibility to ensure that they are medically fit to drive at all times. If you have any doubts, stop driving and discuss the situation with your doctor. Due to the changing and progressive nature of Parkinson’s it is important that your ability to drive is monitored. You may require regular check-ups to confirm that you are still fit to drive.
Unfortunately some insurance companies increase their charges, despite the disability discrimination legislation that now exists in many European countries. If this happens to you, always obtain a quote from another insurer. Your national Parkinson’s or disability organisation may have a list of recommended insurance companies.
In some countries you may be entitled to a free tax disc if you have a disability and receive certain state benefits. Your local social services or welfare rights organisation can advise further.
Parkinson's medication and driving
Drowsiness can be a side effect of some Parkinson’s medications, particularly dopamine agonists. In some cases medications can cause you to suddenly fall asleep or feel excessively sleepy during the day.
Regulations regarding this vary, so it is important that you check with your country’s regulatory body to confirm their policy. If you experience drowsiness you should stop driving until you have spoken with your doctor. Changing medication can sometimes help, but not always.
What help is available?
In some countries, if you receive certain state benefits you may be entitled to financial assistance to help fund the purchase of a more suitable car or adaptations to an existing vehicle. Your national Parkinson’s organisation, local social services or welfare rights organisation can advise further.
Occupational therapists can sometimes help with mobility issues. Some countries have specialised driving and mobility centres where you can be assessed, obtain information and try out equipment.
The EU Model Parking Card for People with Disabilities (the Blue Badge) has been adopted in many European countries. This entitles anyone who qualifies to certain parking concessions in their own country and when they travel to other parts of Europe that operate the scheme. The concessions vary between countries, but usually apply whether the holder is the driver or a passenger in a car, including in a taxi or hire car.
The FIA Guide for the disabled traveller has further information on parking schemes in Europe.
Public transport concessions and assistance schemes
If you use public transport, you may be entitled to concessions and assistance where you live. Examples include local taxi schemes and rail/bus cards. Many rail companies, airports and airlines provide support to help passengers with disabilities but this usually need to be booked in advance. Your local Parkinson’s group or disability organisation will be able to provide information on services available in your area.
See our Travel section for tips on using public transport if you decide not to drive on occasions.
How can I help myself?
To accommodate life with Parkinson’s you may need either to change the type of car you drive or to make adaptations to your existing vehicle. Investigate all available options and follow up those that are practical and will help overcome any difficulties, bearing in mind that symptoms are likely to progress. Examples include:
- cars that are easier to drive and have been designed to suit people with disabilities
- cars that provide more space so that you can manoeuvre yourself in and out more easily
- power steering
- an automatic gearbox
- other automatic functions, e.g. electric windows and windscreen wipers that are activated when it rains
- swivel seats or sitting on a sheet of plastic to make it easier to get in and out of your car seat
- door handles that are simple to open
- hand controls or aids to make steering, braking or acceleration.
Always take a mobile phone with you when you drive, so you can call for assistance if you get into difficulties or have an accident.