An investigation has found nearly 337,000 motorists with medical conditions are waiting for their licences to be renewed by the DVLA.
More than 800,000 people in the UK are waiting for a new driving licence, though 39 per cent of these motorists are those with medical conditions who may need to have their applications signed off by a GP, a report claims.
The delays for medical driving licences are ‘affecting some of the most vulnerable sections of society’ who are often over 70 who live in remote areas and rely on their cars as a ‘vital lifeline to attend medical appointments, do their shopping or to visit friends and relatives,’ says Heycar, which conducted the probe.
Playing a waiting game: Over 336k drivers with medical conditions are waiting for DVLA to process their licence applications as backlog soars 65% in a year
A medical driving licence is issued to a motorist who suffers from a condition or disability that needs to be declared to the DVLA.
There are around 200 separate issues listed on the Government’s website that need to be declared, including anxiety, diabetes, arthritis, epilepsy and heart conditions to name just a few.
These application may need further information and sign-off from a healthcare professional, depending on the type of condition.
I had to wait FOUR MONTHS for my licence renewal
Barry Kirby, 70, from near Ormskirk in Lancashire said he has fallen victim to the massive backlog in medical driving licence applications in the last year.
He has a neurological problem and previously suffered with sleep apnoea, was severely impacted by a four-month wait for his driving licence.
When he made a paper application for his 70 and over licence renewal in September last year, he declared he had suffered from the condition in the past and the DVLA sent him a medical questionnaire to complete.
He then heard nothing for two months and was left frustrated at being unable to speak to anyone at the DVLA – despite numerous attempts.
‘I didn’t know what was going on,’ Barry says. ‘I found it impossible to contact anyone at the DVLA. When I telephoned them I would get redirected and wait and wait, and nobody answered.
‘All I could do was check on the GOV.UK website and found that my licence had been revoked.’
That led to the leasing company telling him to ‘cease driving immediately’, though left him with £250 monthly payments for a vehicle that he couldn’t use.
‘I live in a rural area and we only have a bus service every two hours during daylight hours so I was very restricted at home,’ Barry explains.
‘I had to go to the hospital, which takes 10 minutes in a car. I tried to walk it and it took me an hour to walk to the next bus route and I was exhausted. And that bus never came. I ended up in the middle of the countryside ringing for a taxi.’
Towards the end of November, the DVLA wrote to Barry to inform him they had contacted his doctor and expected a delay in receiving a reply due to the ongoing situation with Coronavirus.
Barry spoke to his doctor’s surgery and had confirmation within two days of the DVLA letter that the doctor had responded to say he was medically fit to drive.
He then heard nothing from the DVLA and after a month of being unable to get through on the phone consumer website HonestJohn.co.uk for help.
Within two days of contacting the DVLA on Barry’s behalf in January 2022, he was informed his driving licence had been authorised.
Barry says that it brought an end to ‘months of frustration’.
However, GPs seeing less people face-to-face has caused further delays to the process.
On 25 March 2021, the DVLA had a backlog of 203,890 applications of this type.
However, by 25 March 2022 this figure had jumped to 336,759 – a rise 132,869, or 65 per cent.
The study also suggests that some of these motorists are waiting up to six months for their licence to be renewed.
Many of these are likely paper applications, which have been hit the hardest as staff at the DVLA’s Swansea headquarters have largely been working from home during the pandemic, creating a backlog of mail waiting to be opened.
There was also nearly two months’ worth of strike action by staff who claimed that the building was not Covid secure, which added to the existing delays.
The backlog of unanswered applications, documents and calls has led to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps vowing to digitise the DVLA, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson threatened to ‘privatise the arse’ out of the government agency and the Passport Office for immobilising Britons.
The DVLA says it will reach ‘normal’ turnaround times for paper drivers licence applications (up to three weeks including some time for postage) by the end of May.
As for medical applications, the target is for 90 per cent of cases to be processed within 90 days by the end of September, the government agency states.
A medical driving licence is issued to a motorist who suffers from a condition or disability that needs to be declared to the DVLA. Back problems is just one of the issues that might need to be medically signed off by a GP for drivers who declare the condition
Sarah Tooze, consumer editor of Heycar, said: ‘The delays for medical driving licences are affecting some of the most vulnerable sections of society.
‘They are often over 70, living in remote areas who rely on their cars as a vital lifeline to attend medical appointments, do their shopping or to visit friends and relatives.
‘While some may be able to drive while their application is being processed this isn’t the case for everyone – and many are too scared to take the risk as they are unclear on the DVLA guidelines.’
Those waiting for medical driving licence renewal are most likely not allowed to continue driving while their application is being processed because the DVLA stipulates that they must meet the medical standards of fitness – something motorists going through this process will not know until they have sign-off from their GP.
They also cannot keep driving if their last licence was revoked for medical reasons.
Tooze says it will be an ‘even greater source of anxiety’ for drivers with medical conditions to not know what is happening to their applications.
‘They accept the Covid-19 pandemic has caused delays but not hearing from the DVLA or being able to speak to anyone for months on end is unacceptable,’ she added.
‘We think the DVLA should step up its communication, put an end to needless worry for drivers and win back the trust of motorists who have, quite rightly, lost faith in the system.’
Previous research found that 363,280 UK driving licences were medically revoked between the start of 2014 and the middle of 2019 with DVLA figures showing a significant rise in the number of motorists taken off the road because of illness or a condition since 2016.
The data showed that 2018 had the highest annual cases of motorists being deemed unfit for the road with 73,724 having their licences revoked that year, according to online car sales site, Motorway.co.uk.
Using the breakdown of figures for 2019 only, alcoholism was the single main reason why the DVLA had been forced to cancel driving licences, followed by conditions that cause seizures or blackouts and poor eyesight.
SAVE MONEY ON MOTORING
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.