Like most MSers in the UK, I have to renew my driving license every three years. What should be a simple job – where I tell the licensing authority (the DVLA) that nothing has changed and I get my licence back – often turns into a year-long tug-of-war between me and the authorities.
Because you’re still legally entitled to drive while they spend a year doing their detective-work, it ends up being valid for just two years by the time it returns.
I know I don’t need the plastic license to drive, but try and hire a car on holiday, or try and provide some photo ID without taking your passport out and about with you, and you’ll see where it becomes difficult. I’m embarking on a road trip along the Californian coast this year. Without a physical licence, life on my hols could become very difficult indeed.
After they receive your forms, the DVLA medical group might write back to ask you to make appointments with medics and opticians to prove you’ve told them the truth. They might also send you new application forms frustratingly repeating the same questions as the ones you’ve already submitted.
Of course, when this happens the annoyance, and let’s be honest, the worry, starts to build up. Every letter postmarked Swansea dropping to the doormat is accompanied by an equivalent drop in mood.
So, it’s a bit of a battle. On one side there’s the DVLA Medical Group, and on the other, there’s me and my MonSter, my family and friends, my neurologist, my GP, my optician, my physio, my cats, the entire population of driving licence wielding MSers in the UK, and this year for the very first time, my Member of Parliament, Mr Toby Perkins MP. Toby was drafted in to send the DVLA a stiff email to ask them why they were taking so long.
So, within a week of Toby sending his email, I received a phone call from a friendly sounding woman with a Swansea accent, just double-checking everything on my form was correct. When I assured her it really was, I was informed that my application was now on its way to one of their doctors for approval, and it shouldn’t be long now.
“How long, roughly?”
“Within a couple of weeks.”
A couple of weeks later a brown envelope with a Swansea returns address arrived in the post.
Eagerly, I tore it open.
“Dear Mr Dave”, it read, “We’ve nearly finished processing your claim,”
“Before we issue you with a new licence, please can you provide an up-to-date picture of you with your MonSter for the card? Just fill this form in, and stick a passport photo on the sticky bit. Make sure you return it to us in the next 14 days or we may get nasty and revoke your licence”
OK. Strike while the iron’s hot. “C’mon MonSter, let’s go to ‘big-Tesco’ to get a passport photo”
It being a weekend, I knew it was going to tire me out. I knew big-Tesco was going to be busy and I knew my MonSter was going to be super-excited to have his photo taken. Indeed, he was – bouncing around with that ugly grin of his. I locked the front door of my house and turned to walk towards my car when he accidentally bumped my walking stick just as I was about to lean on it. The bottom of the stick flew in front of my ankles, and I fell forward, tripping and entangling myself in the very device I use to keep myself upright.
I headbutted the cobbled path in front of my house.
Badly shaken, and with a throbbing nose and forehead, I eventually picked myself up, headed back indoors, and checked myself in the mirror. Yes, a nice bruise was forming on the bridge of my nose. Thanks MonSter! Even though I no longer feel physically up for it, I really am going to have to go and get this photo done today now; I can’t have a huge bruise in the middle of my face and on my driving licence photo for years to come.
So, after I’d recuperated with a sit down and a cup of tea, I ventured out again. Big-Tesco was every bit as bad as I expected it to be and the MonSter, although a bit tiring, largely behaved himself and actually sat still to have his picture taken.
I dutifully stuck the picture of us both on the relevant bit of the form and signed it, remembering to keep my signature within the box. Mrs Dave then kindly offered to take it to the Post Office as she was going there anyway on Monday morning and she’d send it as a next-day signed-for delivery. I agreed even though it was going to cost about £8 to do that. We weren’t going to have any margins of error on our side.
Literally three days after the form was sent, a Swansea number phoned my phone.
“Hello? Is that Mr Dave?” asked the woman in a rich, Welsh timbre.
“Hello. I’m calling from the DVLA. Just to let you know, there’s a letter in the post asking you for a new photograph. “
“Yes! I’ve received it! I sent it back with a photo… next day delivery… to be signed for… you should have it already…”
“Oh! …OK… Ermm… I was just ringing to let you know to ignore it. It was sent in error.”
I let out a long sigh. It’s never easy.
About a week later my new licence arrived. The whole process had taken nine months. Without Toby’s involvement, it could easily have taken over a year like it has in the past.
I understand why, with a progressive condition, you need to be investigated, and I understand the need for temporary licenses, I just think it could be a quicker process. I’m not sure of the resource levels at DVLA HQ in Swansea, but I wonder if some investment from the government is required here or are disabled drivers as low on the list of priorities as I suspect they are.
To put it into perspective, in preparation for the trip, I also applied for a temporary disabled persons placard (the American version of a blue badge) from California State in February 2022.
The form involved getting my GP (my “physician”) to fill out a section stating that I had MS, and after I’d included photocopies of a hospital letter with my diagnosis and a photocopy of my blue badge for good measure, I sent it to a post office box halfway round the world in Sacramento.
A couple of weeks later it was returned. I’d forgotten to include ID.
Damn! I need to get this sorted before my holiday. I photocopied my passport and sent it back.
Again, a couple of weeks later, an envelope from Sacramento landed on the doormat. It was the disabled parking placard. The whole process from beginning to end took just less than two months.
Remember, the DVLA took nine.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the DVLA. Sadly, I don’t think it’ll be the last.