Updated: Feb 8
Last Thursday was an important day for me.
As I waited in the foyer of the Northampton National Driving Assessment Centre (NDAC), I wondered how I would cope if I failed my driving assessment and lost my license. It all started some weeks before when I had a conversation with Jenny Kirti, one of the wonderful professionals who look after people like me who are on the road of dementia. During a routine telephone conversation, I mentioned that my practice Nurse had told me that she would now be my point of contact for dementia-related queries (at least, that's what I gathered). I asked Jenny how my doctor could sign off my yearly application for a driving license renewal when he hadn't seen me in the last 12 months. Surely that would be perjury? Jenny suggested that I take a driving assessment, and I readily agreed. The wheels were put in motion, and the end result was me sitting in the foyer with sweaty palms and butterflies in my stomach, knowing that my freedom to travel in my own vehicle hung on my performance over the next hour. Two people appeared and introduced themselves. An examiner - who I had spoken to briefly on the telephone a few days previously to confirm my booking. And an Occupational Therapist. We went into a quiet room and sat down.
First, I had to supply information, including my driving licence number, date of birth, National Insurance number and a list of my medication, then I had to use a test strip to check my blood sugar level (as I do each time before driving - I am an insulin-dependent diabetic). My sugars were a little high, but I was OK to drive).
I did have one nagging doubt. When I got up that morning, I had accidentally taken my evening tablets instead of my morning tablets (sadly, a regular occurrence). These included my donepezil hydrochloride Alzheimer's medicine and a number of other meds that I thought might affect my performance. I then took my morning tablets and was feeling a little light-headed.
the examiner explained what we would be doing that morning, and then the assessment began.
First I had to complete some written cognitive tests which I passed with flying colours (I'm good at tests), then we went outside and I had to read a vehicle number plate from a distance. Once again, no problem.
Then we went over to the vehicle that I would be driving for the assessment. It was an automatic (I had asked to take the assessment in on as that is the only type of vehicle I drive nowadays). I got in and adjusted everything to suit my requirements. The driving position was a little awkward as the vehicle had been converted to dual control, and there was a metal rod linkage attached to the top of the brake pedal that partially interfered with my foot. I also noted that the vehicle was considerably longer and wider than the little Toyota IQ that I drive. Anyway. The Examiner sat down beside me; the Occupational Therapist climbed into the back seat, and off we drove, passing my daughter Verity who was patiently sitting in her car in the carpark after having kindly driven me to the test centre. The test involved following the Examiner's directions safely and within the speed limit. At one point, the directions were given by street name rather than "turn left at the next junction" type commands, and I was also asked at one point to provide a commentary as I drove off any road signs I saw and other things I was approaching that were important to note while driving (schools, double-parked vehicles, pedestrians between parked vehicles etc.). The test lasted around half an hour, during which we stopped twice so that the Examiner could tell me what would be happening next and give me a short debrief on what he had noticed so far. Finally, we returned to the Assessment Centre, and I reversed into the parking slot. The Examiner asked me to wait outside for a few minutes while he and his colleague discussed my performance.
After a few minutes, they returned and informed me that I had passed, but there were a few concerns about my road positioning and slight speeding that seemed to show a lack of concentration. Also, I had missed a turning and got a little muddled in my directions at one point. This meant that they would only OK me for six months, after which I would need to take another assessment. The Examiner and his colleague the Occupational Therapist, were both professional and kind throughout. They put me at ease and explained the process very well indeed. We are truly blessed to have such professional people working on our behalf.
For me? Well, I am glad to have had the opportunity to put my driving ability to the test. I love the freedom that driving gives me, but I would not want to drive if I was unsafe and will gladly hand in my license and find alternatives when the time comes. Luckily though, that time is not now, and I hope to pass my next assessment with flying colours, perhaps earning myself another whole year on the road by demonstrating that I am still a safe driver.
Thank you to Jenny for arranging the assessment, and thank you to the the two professionals who conducted it so fairly and compassionately. And a special thank you to my daughter Verity for being my friend, enabling me to get to the Assessment Centre and back and listening patiently to my babble.