Drivers with a disability

The following information is for customers who advise RMS that they suffer from a physical disability which may affect their ability to control a motor vehicle. All customers with a physical disability are given a fair opportunity to demonstrate their driving ability in a standard test. However, if the customer declares a disability that will affect their driving, a disability driving test has to be given. The purpose of a disability driving test is to ensure that people with a disability are assessed on their capabilities for safely controlling motor vehicles.

It is a legal responsibility of any driver to notify RMS of any long term or serious illnesses, injuries and/or mental or physical disabilities as soon as practicable. The national ‘Assessing Fitness to Drive’ medical standards has been adopted by all licensing jurisdictions and medical practitioners in Australia and provides information about specific medical and physical disabilities.

Disabilities for licence applicants fall into two broad categories: minor disabilities and serious disabilities.

Minor disabilities

Minor disabilities are considered not to prevent the customer from safely operating a vehicle include the loss of three fingers or fewer on one hand, the loss of toes, slight stiffness of a joint, one limb slightly shorter than the other, or other minor disability. RMS can issue a licence in the normal manner to a person with a minor disability. There is no need for a medical report or disability driving test, or to assign any licence condition to the licence, provided there is no other medical conditions declared that requires a medical examination and report.

Serious disabilities

Serious disabilities include the loss or serious impairment of one or both legs, loss or serious impairment of one or both arms, the loss of more than three fingers on one hand, or other mental or physical disability. In most cases, customers with serious disabilities will require the use of special aids, appliances and/or vehicle modifications in order to safely operate a motor vehicle to an appropriate safe standard (e.g the use of artificial limb(s), hand controls, steering wheel aid, electronic indicators, etc).

Any person using special aids, appliances and/or vehicle modifications must undertake a disability driving test in order to be issued, or to retain, a driver licence.

When a licensee has a disability that limits body movement, or requires the use of a special aid, appliances and/or vehicle modifications, RMS applies the following principles in determining their fitness to drive.

Appliances worn

The mass or dimensions of any appliance worn by a person must not impair the control of the vehicle.

Leg disabilities

When neither leg can be used, hand controls are required.

The leg operating the accelerator and footbrake generally requires some mobility of the hip, knee and ankle. The leg operating the clutch (if fitted) generally requires similar mobility.

In automatic cars, the accelerator and brake can be operated either by the right or left leg, or both (one to each control). For left leg operation, the accelerator should be fitted to the left of the footbrake, unless RMS approves operations with the accelerator and footbrake in their normal positions.

Any customer requiring the use of a prosthetic limb (artificial) to help operate the accelerator, footbrake and/or clutch must undertake a disability driving test before commencing to drive unaccompanied with the appliance worn.  It may be necessary for RMS to restrict the customers driving until appropriate assessments have been completed.

A current licence holder who has had their left leg amputated but has full use of their right leg does not have to undertake a driving test, if they choose to drive automatic vehicles only. In this case, the existing licence will be endorsed with the condition ‘May drive only an automatic vehicle’.

Arm disabilities

The use of one arm may be enough to drive an automatic vehicle, but the driver must be able to reach and operate the major controls, without removing their hand from the steering wheel.  In some cases modifications such as extended indicator switch or electronic indicator may need to be fitted to the vehicle.

Usually a steering wheel aid (spinner knob) is required (eg where there is a loss of more than three fingers on one hand) and power steering may be necessary or advisable.

The operation of the parking brake as an emergency brake is not essential if a dual-circuit braking system is fitted (as in all cars built since 1972). A licence condition ‘Vehicle to have dual circuit brakes or handbrake operable by left/right hand’ may be endorsed on the licence.

Neck/head disabilities

If the applicant has a severe restriction to head rotation, wing mirrors or a panoramic/fisheye rear vision mirror must be fitted to each side of the vehicle to improve rear and side vision.  It is not necessary for drivers with additional mirrors installed only to undertake a disability driving test, but appropriate licence conditions for the use of mirrors will need to be endorsed on the driver licence.

Vehicles modified for people with disabilities

There are very few production vehicles made for people with disabilities. In most cases, standard production vehicles are specially modified to cater for drivers and passengers with disabilities. Modifications can range from simple additions of a steering wheel spinner knob to major modifications to the vehicle body structure such as extending the body length and altering the roof of the vehicle.

Customers requiring simple vehicle modifications or appliances, (such as left foot accelerator, steering wheel aid, panoramic/fisheye mirrors) should attend a RMS registry to have any appropriate modifications and conditions added to their licence. RMS will decide, in consultation with the licensee of what appropriate modifications are best suited to the customer’s disability.

Customers requiring the use of major modifications, (such as hand controls, vehicle body structure changes) are recommended to undertake assessment and training with a recognised and driver trained Occupational Therapist, before having a vehicle modified. Occupational Therapist will be able to assist with finding the right modifications suited to the specific disability and assist in having the modification fitted in the vehicle by a RMS approved installer.

The Australian Association of Occupational Therapists is able to supply a list of the locations of Occupational Therapists with the appropriate training.  It is always recommended that customers seek the advice of an Occupational Therapist, qualified in driver assessment and training.

For Information about vehicles modified for people with disabilities, download Vehicle Standards Information Sheet – 21 or contact RMS Technical Enquiries on 1300 137 302.

First time drivers with a serious disabiltiy

When a customer with a serious disability applies for a licence for the first time, the customer will be asked to provide a satisfactory medical report from their treating doctor before any licence is issued.  This is to ensure that RMS is fully aware of the condition, and to provide the doctor with an opportunity to recommend any specific licence conditions, vehicle modifications or any relevant further assessments (such as an occupational therapist driving assessment).

Any licence issued to the customer will need to be endorsed with any relevant licence condition(s) suitable to the disability. If vehicle modifications are required, it will be necessary for the modifications to be fitted to the vehicle during the learner licence process. Once the customer has complied with all other relevant learner driver requirements, it will be necessary for a disability driving test to be completed prior to   upgrading to a Provisional class of driver licence.

Current licence holders with a serious disability

A current licence holder notifying RMS of a serious disability for the first time (i.e. a newly acquired condition) will be required to provide RMS with a medical report from their treating doctor to confirm their current condition and medical fitness to resume driving.  Customers should consult with their doctor at this time about the potential impact that their disability may have on safely operating a motor vehicle and should not re-commence driving until RMS has been notified and appropriate approval has been given.

Once a satisfactory medical report has been provided, RMS may require for the driver to undertake a disability driving test before resuming driving.  Depending on the type of serious disability, RMS may need to restrict or revoke the driver licence until the driving test has been completed.

If the customer requires special aids, appliances and/or vehicle modifications, their licence will need to be endorsed with special conditions appropriate to the disability. The condition(s) will be chosen by RMS in consultation with the licensee. In circumstances where the customer requires major modifications it is recommended that an assessment with a driver trained occupational therapist is undertaken before the customer resumes driving. www.darshandrivingschool.com.au

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