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What does epilepsy mean for driving?

What does epilepsy mean for driving?

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John Swift, Motoring Journalist takes a very personal view of how being diagnosed with epilepsy affected his life, and how he and his family have adapted to his diagnosis. National Epilepsy Week is 20-26 May 2019.

It’s terrifying to come to in a hospital bed and not know where you are, why you’re there or what’s happened. The last thing I remembered the world had been absolutely normal and suddenly, what?

I felt something awful must have happened, because here I was, with a drip in my left arm, all alone in a silent little hospital room.

Somehow the medics knew I’d woken up and one came to the bedside and said in a rather abrupt, matter-of-fact manner – “You’ve had a seizure, you can go home but you can’t drive. You must tell the DVLA and surrender your licence.”

In those few words a large part of my world crumbled. I’m a motoring journalist and earn my living writing about the industry and driving its cars but the foundations for much of the life I had made for myself had just been kicked away.

Sad man with head on hand sitting on a park bench


That was October 2015, I was 52 and had never suffered a day’s illness or health issue in my life. Four days before I had been winning a motor race at Oulton Park. Until then I hadn’t even known what `seizures’ meant and was horrified to learn about epilepsy. It was of absolutely no comfort to know that I had become one of about 600,000 people, one percent of the population, who live with and manage epilepsy through medication. I didn’t care about them, I cared only about myself, my mobility and all which depended on that.

When I got home and contacted the DVLA I was heartbroken to be told it insists on 12 months being free of seizures before handing back your licence and then only if supported by your doctors’ approval. It’s common sense of course, and quite right, but a year -at the very least - sounded like a life sentence.  In fact it took longer because there’s an element of trial and error in finding the correct dosage of the drugs which are taken daily and only when the seizures stop do the doctors know they have the right level; but getting there takes time and in my case more seizures, each of which put back the possible licence return date.

So, what do you do when you can’t drive? My approach has been to accept it as the fact it undoubtedly is and get on with rebuilding my life. I must stress though how immensely fortunate I am to have the unswerving support of my wife and of numerous colleagues who, in various ways, allowed me to carry on in my job. I can also work from home which helps and I recognise that not everyone is as lucky as me in these regards.

People with hands on top of each othersLife is not as it was of course, in some bad ways but also some good ways too.

The bad is that the on-demand instant mobility and freedom of travel we have just by jumping into a car and going and doing what we need to or want to do, stops. Work, family trips and social opportunities which were all taken for granted must be rethought.  Everything gets harder, even going to the shops for the daily essentials. Without a car I had a strong sense of my horizons closing in, of being largely housebound and I admit there were many dark days.

But, I will say too that not being able to drive has at times been oddly liberating. Walking my kids to catch their school bus, I feel lucky to not be one of those sitting in the endless traffic jam of commuters. Living without a car, if it can be done, can be surprisingly rewarding and the hour or so a day I used to spend driving to and from the office now becomes precious `my time’ and I value that.  

I have lived with epilepsy since late 2015 and had several seizures while I am asleep, violent fits which my wife and children say are terrifying to see. I’ve been lucky and able to recapture most of what I had before and have focussed on what I still have, not what I haven’t. It is not easy but with support, help, acceptance of what has happened and looking to get the best from the situation, your life can be rebuilt.


Epilepsy and the DVLA                               

OK, you are going to lose your licence but assuming you want to get back driving asap, it is vital that you contact the DVLA, inform them what has happened and download, fill and return its form `Declaration of voluntary surrender for medical reasons’. 

Take it from me, this is a far better approach than the second route which is to have it revoked by the DVLA who will be informed by the medical authorities about what has happened. You can’t hide it, so, quite apart from the fact that you wouldn’t be insured, don’t even think of driving. The DVLA will contact your doctors and carry out a medical investigation.

A couple of months from the end of the year, I would recommend you start the ball rolling because it is up to you to reapply for a licence. Don’t wait for them and again, you can download the relevant form from the DVLA website, it is quite clearly signposted.

Reapply for your driving licenceThe first time it happened – and because I had surrendered the licence, not had it revoked -  the DVLA wrote to me after about 11 months and said that under Section 88 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act I could drive subject to certain conditions, the most important being that I had the support of my doctor, that I had good reason to believe I would not be refused on medical grounds and it was within 12 months of my application. The licence was provisional and depended on passing a medical – paid for by the DVLA – which in the event seemed a ridiculously basic and easy one.

The DVLA can be frustrating to work with and the wheels of officialdom do grind slowly but they do grind and in time, subject to meeting the medical criteria, you should be back on the road.


Links:

Gov UK - Declaration of Voluntary Surrender

Gov UK - Reapply for a driving licence

Epilepsy Society