New wording from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) requires all autistic drivers to declare their diagnosis, regardless of whether it impacts their driving or not
Update 5 March: The Gov.uk website has been changed back to the oridinal text. Leading autism charity, The National Autistic Society, have said they will continue to contact the DVLA to finalise outstanding details and questions.
In a new Tweet, the DVLA apologised to autistic drivers, as their changes have "clearly muddied the waters".
Statement from DVLA, “In our attempt to clarify the advice for drivers with autism spectrum disorders we’ve clearly muddied the waters and we’re very sorry for that. We have amended the advice on https://t.co/60rBEjkomV for both drivers and medical professionals which— DVLA (@DVLAgovuk) March 4, 2019
Concern, confusion and outrage have been sparked over the reveal of new wording from the DVLA. Brought to light over the weekend, it first began attracting attention following the reveal that an autistic person had contacted the National Autistic Society (NAS) to tell them that the DVLA website states that drivers must disclose if they are on the autistic spectrum.
Previously, it is believed that the website had stated that drivers must only reveal they are on the spectrum if it affected their driving, as is standard for a wide variety of different medical conditions. The removal of this clause has the potential to impact thousands of drivers across the UK. Those who do not comply risk a £1,000 fine and prosecution if they are involved in an accident without reporting their diagnosis.
Many have called for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate, amidst concerns that the DVLA does not appear to have consulted with any leading bodies nor autistic individuals prior to these changes being implemented. According to The Guardian, the EHRC has said ‘Consultation about change in policy should have taken place’.
Labour MP Jess Phillips spoke up on Twitter to say she will be "Asking the EHRC to look into this" after campaigner and lawyer, Samantha Fothergill stated on twitter "The DVLA can’t just change their policy and they would need to consult and Equality Impact Assessment. This looks like discrimination to me ie breach of Equality Act."
When speaking to the Guardian, Director of External Affairs and Social Change at the National Autistic Society, Jane Harris, said: “We are very concerned by the suggestion that people should inform the DVLA after being diagnosed as autistic. Autism is a lifelong disability and if someone has passed their driving test we can’t see how an autism diagnosis would change their ability to drive.”
“We have contacted DVLA who have told us that the gov.uk online guidance was wrong previously and that autistic people should notify them of their diagnosis,” she said. “We are questioning the justification for this directly with them, as many of our supporters are very concerned as they were not previously aware that they needed to do this.
“We don’t believe that the DVLA guidance reflects the autism spectrum properly and are calling for the DVLA to make sure that no one is fined until this matter has been resolved.”
Many are questioning why leading charities and organisations seemed not to have been made aware of the new requirements.
Concern has also been raised at the confusing process many autistic drivers now face, as the paperwork they are required to submit make no mention of autism or any of the related challenges they may face.
Others have gone on to highlight the irony of the situation, sharing that while their diagnosis has no impact on their driving, these new requirements can cause significant anxiety and stress.
Some have also taken to highlighting the ways in which being autistic can positively affect someone’s driving.
Since the revelation, a petition was launched on Sunday 3 March. In the space of just 24 hours, it has already amassed over 3,500 of the required 5,000 signatures. Seeking to remove neurodevelopmental conditions from the list of DVLA compulsory notifiable conditions list, the petition states: “In the interest of equality, we request that ADHD and Autism be made notifiable only if there is evidence they are affecting someone’s driving.”
Concerns have also been raised over whether this new requirement may potentially affect insurance premiums. In a statement shared on Twitter, the NAS said:
"We have checked with DVLA. They tell us that the Gov.uk online guidance was wrong previously. The DVLA’s policy says that autistic people should notify them. We are questioning the justification for this with them, as we know that this will cause concern for a lot of autistic people and for many people, being autistic won’t impact on their ability to drive.
“We don’t believe that the DVLA guidance reflects the autism spectrum properly. Currently, we are updating our website and recommend that you contact DVLA to ask for more information, as we don’t want any autistic person to end up in trouble."
Within the Assessing fitness to drive - a guide for medical professionals guidelines published this February by the DVLA, Autism is only mentioned twice throughout the 140-page document and only once within the body of the document itself.
The NAS has previously highlighted that “Some autistic people may find the skill of driving extremely difficult, whilst others will be highly competent. A diagnosis of autism or Asperger syndrome should not in itself be a barrier to holding a license.”
Since the revelation of changes to DVLA requirements, the NAS has added new guidelines to their website stating that autistic people must notify the DVLA of their diagnosis:
“Gov.uk guidance states that autistic people must notify the DVLA of their autism diagnosis. Previouly this guidance did not say this, and the National Autistic Society is seeking clarification about the change and why it has been made.
“We are also working to ensure the DVLA update this form [M1 form] to ensure it is appropriate for autistic people.”
In a 2016 report, major failings in the way in which the DVLA makes decisions on whether people with certain medical conditions are safe to drive were highlighted. The report, which looked into eight separate complaints where people were unfairly prevented from driving due to complex medical conditions, went on to highlight flawed decisions, significant delays, poor communication and complaint handling by the DVLA.