The law on driving and dementia

Drivers with dementia must tell their licensing agency and car insurer straightaway. Find out more about UK law on driving and dementia, and what happens if these rules are not followed.

What does the law say about driving and dementia?

UK law on driving and dementia is clear. A driver (or ‘licence holder’) who is diagnosed with dementia must tell their licensing agency straightaway. If they don’t, they can be fined up to £1,000.

In England and Wales, drivers must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). In Northern Ireland, they must tell the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA)

The doctor, or other healthcare professional should make these rules clear to the person and anyone else, when they diagnose the person’s dementia.

Drivers with dementia must also tell their car insurance provider straightaway. If they do not, their policy may not be valid. It is illegal to drive without at least third-party cover.

If a person with dementia wants to keep driving, they must tell DVLA/DVA. The agency will ask about the person’s medical information and decide if they are safe to drive. Or DVLA/DVA may ask the person to have a driving assessment. You can find out more about this in the section ‘How to keep driving after a dementia diagnosis’.

Some people diagnosed with dementia decide for themselves that they want to stop driving and send their licence back to DVLA/DVA. This is called ‘voluntary surrender’.

Thinking of giving up driving?

Read our advice on giving up driving or supporting someone who is no longer driving. 

Find out more

Does a person have to follow medical advice?

In some cases, the doctor will tell the person to stop driving straightaway. This will happen if the person’s symptoms will clearly make them unsafe on the road. The doctor may be unsure of someone’s ability and will want them to stop driving until more tests are done.

Medical advice like this must always be followed – even if it takes many weeks for DVLA/DVA to decide if the person can keep driving.

What does the law say about driving and mild cognitive impairment?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that causes minor problems with memory, perception, reasoning, judgement or attention. People diagnosed with MCI do not have dementia, but some will get it over time. 

MCI can affect a person’s driving, but this happens much less often than in dementia. This means that drivers diagnosed with MCI do not always have to tell DVLA/DVA about their condition.

If a person with MCI finds their driving is affected by their MCI symptoms, they must tell DVLA/DVA about this. A person’s close family, friends or healthcare professional may be good judges of their driving and can also tell DVLA/DVA if needed.

As with dementia, DVLA/DVA will ask for a medical report and decide if the person is safe to drive.

If the person does not tell DVLA/DVA about a dementia diagnosis

Some people who are diagnosed with dementia do not tell the driver licensing authorities and keep driving. This may be because they do not accept or recognise their diagnosis, or they aren’t aware of how much their dementia is affecting their driving.

Not telling DVLA/DVA puts the person at risk of a fine and arrest as well as a possible accident. It also puts them in danger of driving without insurance as their policy may now be invalid.

If this happens, the doctor should try to persuade the person to stop driving and encourage them to tell DVLA/DVA (or let their family do this for them).

If this does not work, the doctor may have to give the person’s relevant medical information to DVLA/DVA. The doctor does not need to ask the person before they do this, but they must tell them afterwards in writing.

This can all be very difficult and stressful for the person with dementia, their family, their doctor and anyone else supporting them. For tips on how to handle these situations and to find out what support is available, see our page 'When DVLA/DVA decides the person must stop driving'. 

It may be helpful to try to reason with the person. However, for some people, their dementia may mean that they are not able to accept their diagnosis or understand how it affects their driving.

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