DVLA backtracks in row over autistic drivers

Autism and driving rules

The DVLA has clarified its position on drivers with autism after coming under fire for issuing confusing guidance. The agency has stated that people with autism do not always need to declare their condition; they only need to do so if it affects their driving.

The statement comes following criticism from the National Autistic Society, which condemned a recent change in the DVLA’s guidance.The organisation said autistic people always needed to declare their condition, regardless of whether it affected their driving. It has now reverted to its previous position.

The charity said the DVLA had caused autistic drivers to panic and think they had been unwittingly breaking the law.In a tweet, the agency apologised and admitted to having “muddied the waters”.

Clarifying the guidance

In its guidance on autism, the DVLA says it considers factors such as “the level of impulsivity” and “awareness of impacts of behaviour on self or others” in the decision over whether an autistic person should be allowed to drive.

Julie Lennard, chief executive of the DVLA, wrote to the National Autistic Society to apologise.

The agency told the charity it had been intending to clarify "inconsistent advice” on the gov.uk website when it made the original changes on 15 February, but that this had “caused confusion”, leading it to revert to its original position on March 4. It added: "The number of people who contacted us over this issue was low.”

Tim Nicholls, the National Autistic Society’s head of policy, said: “While we welcome the DVLA’s clarification, there are still many outstanding questions from us and autistic people. Autism is a lifelong disability [sic] and, if someone has passed their driving test, we can’t see how a subsequent diagnosis would change their ability to drive.”

Disclosure for certain conditions

People with a wide variety of mental and physical health issues are legally required to disclose their condition to the DVLA – sometimes in all cases, sometimes only if it affects their driving.There is a blanket requirement for people with bipolar disorder, alcoholism, AIDS and those with a learning disability declare this. Anyone who has ever used illegal drugs is also supposed to tell the DVLA.

Drivers can be fined up to £1,000 for not disclosing a medical condition that affects their driving, and prosecuted if they are involved in an accident as a result. That said, declaring a medical condition doesn't mean a driver will lose their licence; in the majority of cases they are still allowed to drive.

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