Wessex DriveAbility Archives - Driving Mobility

Charity-funded Southampton assessment centre for disabled drivers has adapted car fleet stolen

Wessex DriveAbility, part of the Driving Mobility network of assessment centres, has been left unable to help disabled drivers regain independence following the theft of its specialist fleet of modified vehicles.

Wessex DriveAbility, part of the Driving Mobility network of assessment centres, has been left unable to help disabled drivers regain independence following the theft of its specialist fleet of modified vehicles.

Wessex DriveAbility’s main assessment centre is based in Kent Road, Southampton, with outreach locations in Basingstoke, Salisbury, Ferndown, and the Isle of Wright. Its team of Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs), Occupational Therapists and Administrators provide ‘fitness to drive’ driving assessments for elderly and disabled people who self-refer or are signposted from the DVLA, Motability, NHS, and Police. This charity-funded team ensure drivers are safe to continue driving and provide clinical recommendations regarding adapted driving controls and wheelchair accessible vehicles.

With criminals breaking into their headquarters this week and stealing the charity’s complete fleet of specialist vehicles, Wessex DriveAbility can no longer help disabled drivers or continue to tackle the large backlog of assessment requests caused by the pandemic. All the centre staff are shocked by this theft and have been left questioning why criminals would take such specialist, niche vehicles.

Rachel Odell, Wessex DriveAbility Centre Manager, comments: “Discovering our fleet of cars had been taken during Monday night was an awful shock to all of us. We are so confused with how and why these modified cars would be stolen as they are specially designed and modified for drivers with restricted mobility. We are a non-profit charity which is part of a larger national charity called Driving Mobility and are really worried we might not be able to replace certain custom-made controls we had fitted in vehicles. Now we have no specialist vehicles for assessing, drivers desperate to regain their freedom will potentially have to wait a considerate length of time before we can see them. This couldn’t have come at a worse possible time with the huge demand on our service right now. My team and I are absolutely appalled by the selfish nature of this act which will impact so many disabled people and their families”

Five adapted vehicles were stolen from Wessex DriveAbility with many conspicuous additions such as wheelchair rooftop boxes. The centre is appealing for witnesses to come forward who may have seen any suspicious activity on the evening of Monday 8th November. The thieves broke into the building using considerable force – smashing fire doors, alarms and safes to access car keys. Luckily no staff were on-site or injured during the break-in. Curiously the centre’s standard vehicles were left untouched which adds further confusion to the motive of this crime.

Laura Holley, Driving Assessor and ADI, concludes: “We might be wrong however it appears that the criminals were scoping our property for some time as they knew exactly where to access keys and at the right time. Plus, they must have had some knowledge of adapted driving as our cars were fitted with modified steering controls, such as push-pull hand levers for acceleration and braking ­– these did not seem to hinder them. Our cars were unique and specialist so not easy to sell on as a whole. We hope the offenders are apprehended quickly for this awful crime. In the meantime, we are now 100% focused on limiting the impact on our services as much as possible and replacing our fleet as best we can. When you are so passionate about helping disabled people, it is heart breaking for something like this to happen. As we are a charity, funds and time are always limited so this is a massive blow. If anybody from the local community can help us in anyway, we’d be so grateful.”


Driving Mobility, supported by the Department for Transport
As a registered charity, Driving Mobility accredits a network of 21 driving assessment centres covering the whole of the UK. Many with outreach facilities, these centres include independent charities and NHS centres which offer professional information and assessment so disabled and elderly people can gain or retain independence.

Driving Mobility ensures that there are common standards, promotes good practice and offers training and education to all regional centres, whilst working closely with associated national organisations. These include the Department for Transport, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, Driver and Vehicle Agency (NI), Motability and the Police, along with many other valued stakeholders.

Driving Mobility is privileged to have Baroness Thomas of Winchester as their patron and is supported by HM Government.

For further press information please contact:
Jon Nock
iDIS Creative Marketing Limited
Mob: +44(0)7786 245896
Email: jon@idiscreativemarketing.co.uk



‘The Force’ is strong with Star Wars Chris and Obi the dog thanks to Driving Mobility

Lifelong Star Wars film fan Chris Welch, 48 from Poole, has maintained driving independence thanks to the support of Driving Mobility and his assistance dog Obi.

Lifelong Star Wars film fan Chris Welch, 48 from Poole, has maintained driving independence thanks to the support of Driving Mobility and his assistance dog Obi.

Chris is a medically retired sales manager with five children, who has peripheral neuropathy. Despite significant problems with mobility and pain, Chris is a dedicated parent who supports his family with the help of Obi, his assistance dog. Obi, a three-year-old black Labrador, is named after a character in the popular Star Wars films – the Jedi Knight, Obi-wan Kenobi. Obi has been trained to help Chris with daily tasks such as dressing and fetching items, along with supporting him when out driving. Chris unfortunately experiences high levels of anxiety on a regular basis; however, Obi has the ability to sense stress and will always move safely and calmly alongside his owner to reassure him if needed in the car. As Chris has to renew his driving licence every three years due to his condition, he was instructed by the DVLA to attend a Driving Mobility centre for his regular ‘fitness-to-drive’ assessment. The centre closest to him was Wessex DriveAbility, accredited by Driving Mobility, based in Southampton.

Driving Mobility is a network of 21 independent centres, with over 70 outreach facilities, that provide clinically led, driving and mobility assessments for people with disabilities. Clients self-refer or are signposted to Driving Mobility from the DVLA, Motability, the Police, and healthcare professionals such as GPs. Each centre is either an independent charity or an NHS department which provides Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs). By completing an assessment, clients such as Chris, receive professional advice and guidance to remain mobile with the most appropriate driving adaptations, accessible vehicles or equipment such as mobility scooters and wheelchairs.

When Government restrictions due to the Covid pandemic were eased, Chris was impressed with the speed at which his assessment was arranged. He was able to visit Wessex DriveAbility within two weeks of booking an appointment. Chris and Obi drove from Poole to Southampton for their assessment and were immediately put at ease on arrival by the Wessex staff: “I was very anxious before my appointment, however Rachel and her team were amazing. As soon as Obi and I arrived, they understood my anxieties and did all they could to make me feel relaxed. They respected that Obi was ‘at work’ so didn’t give him any fuss and were really patient so I didn’t get stressed – I felt their care was sincere and genuine. When you have a disability, you feel like you are fighting for everything all of the time, commonly things that able-bodied people take for granted. This was so different at Wessex, they kept saying ‘they were on my side’ and I didn’t feel awkward or tense, I’d recommend them 100%.”

Chris’ assessment started with desk-based activities to check his cognitive abilities. He was assessed by an OT and ADI who also checked his general mobility and movement in relation to operating a car safely. Once this and an eyesight assessment were completed, Chris was accompanied on a 45-minute driving assessment around the outskirts of Southampton.

A car from the centre’s fleet was used for the assessment so Chris was given plenty of time to familiarise himself with the controls as he explains: “I’d never driven a Ford Focus before however it wasn’t a problem as we only set off when I felt totally comfortable. It helped I had Obi by my side who always travels upfront and wears his special seatbelt. The Covid safe procedures were very thorough – we all wore masks, the car had been thoroughly disinfected and we regularly hand sanitised. I was assessed driving along different types of roads and given various junctions and obstacles, such as parked cars, to negotiate. They checked things like my use of mirrors, road alignment and how I interacted with other road users. I was surprisingly calm throughout the experience in the end, I’d even say it was enjoyable despite the traffic being pretty busy.”

Chris returned to the centre and the final report was compiled by the Driving Mobility OT and ADI. For Chris it was a positive outcome in terms of driving – he was deemed fit to continue using a car independently, with Obi by his side of course. After the whole assessment was over, the Wessex team asked if they could give Obi lots of fuss, which they did, and he loved.

With the support of Driving Mobility, Chris can now continue to drive a VW Transporter with no specialist driving adaptations. However, as his condition is progressive, he may need assisted controls in the future which can be recommended by Wessex DriveAbility. Chris requires this eight-seater vehicle to transport his large family and Obi, which is vital during the summer months. As getting cold severely increases the pain in his legs, Chris tends to remain indoors at home as much as he can during the winter. Having the ability to drive is crucial to build ‘special memories in the sunshine for his children’ and to perform ‘dad duties’ which involves ferrying them to activities. Chris is used to being housebound and believes many people with disabilities can provide advice to people struggling with lockdowns caused by the pandemic. He fully recommends the companionship of a dog or pet as: “they make a huge difference to your mental health and wellbeing.”

In summary Chris remarks that the Wessex DriveAbility service is second to none: “They made me feel confident and helped me demonstrate that I could still drive safely. You do have doubts about your abilities, but their exceptional support reinforced I could do it! As a person with a disability, you do worry about losing your driving freedom as you have already lost so much. However disabled Star Wars actors such as Kenny Baker, who played the droid R2D2, and ‘Ewok’ Warwick Davis, helped me as a child respect people for who they are, irrespective of ability. I wasn’t born with a disability so have had to adapt – these guys have always inspired me. Those films were pure escapism for me during my childhood and still are to this day – hence calling my dog Obi. He really enjoyed his time with Driving Mobility, especially all the attention he received from the Wessex team. They were all so professionally brilliant and encouraged me all the way. I cannot sing their praises enough.”

Chris was approved to continue driving however some clients may be advised to seek further tuition or their licence is revoked. Not being able to drive a car does not mean independence is lost as each Driving Mobility centre can provide alternatives. These may include advice on using accessible public transport or ownership of a mobility scooter. Several centres also now provide a HUBs service which offers a comprehensive programme of guidance on all aspects of localised assisted transportation and accessible lifestyles.

Wessex DriveAbility launches older drivers’ assessment service with Dorset Police

Wessex DriveAbility, part of the Driving Mobility network of driving assessment centres, has launched a new fitness to drive scheme for drivers referred to the charity by Dorset Police.

Wessex DriveAbility, part of the Driving Mobility network of driving assessment centres, has launched a new fitness to drive scheme for drivers referred to the charity by Dorset Police.

Driving Mobility accredits twenty independent organisations which offer professional support and driving assessments to people who need to gain, or retain, the ability to drive following a diagnosis involving impairment or disability. Wessex DriveAbility is part of this network with a main assessment centre in Southampton and further locations in Basingstoke, Salisbury, Ferndown and the Isle of Wright. Its team of Approved Driving Instructors, Occupational Therapists and Administrators provide comprehensive driving assessments for individuals who refer themselves to the service or are put forward by the DVLA or Motability. Wessex Driveability has also managed referrals from Hampshire Constabulary since 2013 which has now been extended to Dorset Police. This agreement, part of the ‘Older Drivers’ Forum’, provides a possible alternative for drivers who are to be prosecuted or fined following a road traffic accident or incident. Other areas which currently operate this scheme are South Wales, Cornwall, East Anglia and Newcastle.

If a driver aged 70 or over has been identified by the Police for driving ‘without due care and attention’ or ‘without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place’, they can be referred to Wessex DriveAbility for a fitness-to-drive assessment. This is not a legal requirement for each driver however it provides an opportunity to avoid further legal action or attendance on courses such as speed awareness sessions. Following the driving assessment, Wessex DriveAbility submits a report to Dorset Police which concludes whether the driver is safe to drive, requires training or must cease indefinitely. If it is recommended that the driver should cease driving, the findings are compiled with the Police’s initial incident report and sent to the DVLA who then make a final decision.

Rachel Odell, Wessex DriveAbility Centre Manager, comments: “We were the first Driving Mobility Centre to pioneer this programme with Hampshire Police and are delighted that the Dorset Force are now on-board. This provides a vital choice for older drivers who wish to replace potential prosecution, points or a fine, with a positive alternative. Here at Wessex, we focus on providing safe driving independence for people of all ages and abilities. Our comprehensive assessment services, led by healthcare and driving specialists, are ideally suited to support the Police – helping to deliver a better approach to driving and awareness of personal capabilities. Ultimately this service assists with safety for all road users and we look forward to working with other Constabularies in the future.”


Wessex DriveAbility gives Basingstoke horrific accident survivor renewed independence

Steve North experienced life-changing injuries and reduced mobility during a horrific accident read how Wessex Driveability could help him obtain his licence and regain independence.

Disabled Driver Passing Driving Test

Steve North, 39, experienced life-changing injuries and reduced mobility during a horrific accident in 2016. Having previously never taken a driving test, in early 2018 Steve contacted Wessex DriveAbility, a Driving Mobility centre, for a driving assessment with a view to obtaining his licence and regaining independence.

The charity Driving Mobility directs a network of sixteen independent organisations, many with satellite centres, nationwide, which offer professional information, advice and driving assessments to people seeking independent mobility. Centres are staffed by Occupational Therapists as well as Approved Driving Instructors so that a full service, including advice on all aspects of driving and transfer in and out of vehicles, can be provided for drivers with injuries, disabilities or restricted mobility. Wessex Drivability is based at Portswood, Southampton, and also operates outreach centres to reduce travel times for service users. Wessex DriveAbility offers both driving and transfer assessments which include a full consultation, professional advice and a written report.

On the day of the accident, Steve, from Basingstoke, was walking with his wife when two vehicles collided on the bridge they were crossing. Steve was hit by one car and the impact propelled him over the side of the bridge. He landed feet first on the carriageway below. Steve comments: “My wife and I were going out for breakfast, as it was my birthday. I heard a bang and felt the impact of the car – but I don’t remember much after that. I fell fifty feet on to the road below. I guess I was lucky that that road was unusually free of vehicles!”

Steve was initially flown by air ambulance to Southampton Hospital where he was placed in a coma for ten days. He was then kept flat with limited movement for three weeks due to the risk of paralysis from severe injuries. With over twenty fractures, Steve had sustained an L1 spine fracture, a fractured pelvis, badly broken bones in his legs and knees and his left ankle was completely shattered. He was transferred to Salisbury Hospital where doctors fought successfully to save his twisted left leg, only to later have his right leg amputated at the knee.

Steve comments: “I left hospital in February 2017 and used a wheelchair initially but now have a prosthetic leg. I have ongoing physiotherapy and I’m due to have further surgery later this year to fuse my left ankle and relieve pain. Unfortunately, I have been warned there is a chance I could lose my left leg during the operation. Having had a few driving lessons many years ago, I have decided that now would be a great time to obtain my driving licence as I would like to retain independence long-term. “

Mr North visited Wessex Mobility for an initial assessment of his abilities, which included a discussion regarding his health and current medication, before trialling various adaptations and then being accompanied for a drive in a dual-controlled vehicle with a brake/accelerator lever hand control and steering aid.

Steve comments: “Laura from the centre came with me in the car and was absolutely brilliant. I was very nervous but she calmed me down and made me feel so confident. After the drive, I received detailed advice and a list of Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) to contact. I am now taking lessons in an adapted vehicle and I go out driving three to four times each week. I am determined to pass my test and ensure that I keep as mobile as possible in the future.”


Wessex DriveAbility at Southampton General Hospital Open Day

Wessex DriveAbility are delighted to be presenting their services at Southampton General Hospital’s Open Day on Saturday 8 September 2018.

Wessex DriveAbility are delighted to be presenting their driving assessment services at Southampton General Hospital’s Open Day on Saturday 8 September 2018.

The 2018 Hospital Open Day will be taking place on Saturday, 8 September 2018 from 10.30am to 3.30pm at Southampton General Hospital with hundreds of activities and stalls on offer throughout the day.

The Open Day is a fantastic day for all the family to find out more about the hospital and UHS, the services we provide, the amazing opportunities available and ground-breaking work taking place.

The theme this year will be Health Hero Academy through the years and give visitors the chance to not only pick up new skills and have fun, but find out more about the history of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, as well as our plans for the future.

There will be numerous activities on offer and more information will be shared shortly.

There’s no need to book, just turn up on the day and have fun.

For further details please visit the hospital’s Facebook page 

Please note: some activities are subject to availability.

To find out more about your local Driving Mobility driving assessment centre please visit: https://www.drivingmobility.org.uk/find-a-centre/