Following a severe arm injury, James Martin, 30, from Farnworth near Bolton, has become the first Driving Mobility client to pass his driving test thanks to the support of the new RDAC Disability Driving School.
Father of two young boys, James experienced a life changing injury whilst working at a plastic recycling centre in 2018. His arm and hand were crushed in a mechanical baler which resulted in hospitalisation, several operations and amputation of two fingers. After his initial recovery, James continued with rehabilitation however has been left with limited mobility and strength in his right hand and arm. His injury has also affected his back and ability to walk which meant passing his test to drive a car was essential for independence and supporting his family. To gain his licence, James would need to be assessed by a qualified organisation who could professionally check whether adapted driving controls would be suitably safe. His rehab manager researched suitable driving assessment services and decided to contact RDAC in Salford, a Driving Mobility centre, to see if they could help.
RDAC centres (Regional Driving Assessment Centres) are centrally located in the UK and are part of the wider Driving Mobility network. Supported by the Department for Transport, Driving Mobility is a charity that accredits over 20 driving and mobility assessment centres across the UK. Many with outreach facilities, these provide clinically-led ‘fitness to drive’ guidance for disabled drivers who want to maintain or regain independence behind the wheel. Driving Mobility centres either operate within the NHS or as independent charities – all focused on assisted driving or personal mobility through accessible travel, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The Salford RDAC centre provides all of these services alongside a new Disability Driving School. Established in 2020, this specialist tuition service helps drivers with life-changing diagnosis, such as James, to learn how to drive with adaptations.
Following an initial telephone consultation to evaluate his needs, James attended RDAC for a driving assessment in October 2020. With the help of John Allen, ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) and an RDAC Occupational Therapist, James completed a desk-based session, checking cognitive abilities and general mobility, followed by a 45-minute assessment out on the road. James drove one of the centre’s fleet of automatic dual-controlled cars which had already been adapted with a steering aid to ascertain its suitability. RDAC had recommended a ‘Lodgesons Lollipop’ grip secondary control unit which clips to a steering wheel and communicates with a car via Bluetooth. This provides an easy-grip handle for turning a vehicle safely with one hand and can include a range of secondary controls.
During James’ assessment he demonstrated that he could use this adaptation to steer with confidence; however, it highlighted he could not affectively use standard indicators, especially when navigating roundabouts. This led to RDAC’s recommendation to integrate indicator controls within any future steering lollipop.
Following his assessment, James was given a consultation and a report explaining RDAC’s recommendations. To pass his DVSA driving test for the first time, they advised he completed driving lessons at the centre with a car specifically adapted to his needs. James agreed and was assigned specialist Driving Assessor Dominic Hibbin to instruct him for an initial 10 hours. It was estimated James would then be experienced enough to take his test and pass without any problems. He completed the course with the RDAC Disability Driving School and did indeed pass his test first time during November 2020 as he explains: “I thoroughly enjoyed my driving lessons; Dom was excellent and believed in me all the way. He gave me confidence that I could do it and made me feel relaxed. I passed the theory test and then when it came to driving, I took this relaxed feeling into the practical test. I knew this would be important, as if I was relaxed, the examiner would be relaxed. I’m so happy to say I passed first time and can now look forward to driving.”
James has applied for a Motability car through his Personal Independence Payment. He has the RDAC recommendations which will be used to specify the right adaptations so he can drive safely. James already has plans for how this is going to improve his life: “Having a car will make a massive difference to us. I’ll be able to take my boys further afield as they love to be out kicking a football and we can go and see my mum in the Scottish Borders. On a day-to-day basis, we won’t have to get taxis everywhere and I can help my elderly neighbours more with their shopping. Shopping at the minute is hard as I struggle to walk and carry bags so have to keep stopping. However, I’ve carried on during lockdown to help my neighbours who can’t get out.”
James is optimistic about the future and is so grateful for the support of RDAC. He recommends its services to all with driving challenges, as he concludes: “RDAC are one excellent organisation! I’m chuffed to have been the first person to benefit from this new service and will share the news with all my friends and family. They were all fantastic and gave me the belief I could pass my test again. John’s mock driving test really helped before the big day. Dom kept saying how comfortable he felt in the car with me during the lessons and we had a rewarding time together. I now have the details of a vehicle convertor who RDAC recommends so can get my car ready quickly when Motability hopefully approve my application. My rehab manager is confident I’ll be successful, so I can look forward to brighter days when the lockdown is eased.”