I never thought I’d say this. Had I seen this three years ago, I couldn’t not have recognised myself as the author. But right now, I would give just about anything to be able to drive again. The DVLA, in particularly festive spirit, formally revoked my driving licence as of Christmas day. In real terms, this didn’t mean very much and was little more than a formality, as I had already surrendered my licence and taken myself off the road some months before.
When you live in London, as I did for twelve years, car ownership doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, it’s only too easy to be lulled by the press into believing that motorists are at fault for more or less everything. But, of course, London has various cheap and efficient public transport systems that make moving about a breeze. At this point, Londoners usually sit up and object (saying their transport arrangements are neither cheap nor efficient), but I would invite them to travel away from the city for about an hour in any direction, and take a look at the transport situation there. That’s right: the only vaguely efficient infrastructure in place simply takes you back from whence you came. So, when you’re out here in Zone Q, the significance of the car ramps up.
Take the most revolting and objectionable thing you can think of – if I could exchange it for a driving licence I’d be there in a snap. I’d eat any creepy-crawly known (or unknown) to man. I’d do the most dangerous and low-paid jobs – hell, I’d even be Gary Glitter‘s PR man. Dammit, I’d set myself on fire while singing the greatest hits of Jim Davidson if it meant I could get my driving licence back. But none of these things will do it – all there is to do is sit and wait… and wait…
Speaking officially, the Motor Vehicle (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999 prescribes epilepsy as a relevant disability for the purpose of Section 92(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Never has such a simple idea been described in such an over-complicated fashion. Fortunately, the regulations in question go on to make sense of this, over two key points. First, a person who has suffered an epileptic attack while awake must refrain from driving for one year from the date of the attack before a driving licence may be issued. Also, in any event, the driving of a vehicle by such a person should not be likely to cause danger to the public.
Even I have to admit, it’s a fair point. Someone who has lost consciousness, for whatever reason, presents a far higher risk to themselves and everyone else if they’re behind the wheel. The potential consequences of having a fit/seizure/blackout while driving are almost too horrible to comprehend. So the law is there, exactly as it should be, to protect.
But this raises an interesting question: if someone has lost consciousness, for no apparent reason, when is it safe for them to resume driving? Answering this seems as hard as comprehending what brought about a seizure in the first place. In the end, I imagine, a fairly arbitrary number was chosen: a minimum of one calendar year. Is there a link between losing consciousness and the Earth’s orbit around the Sun? Unlikely – but you’ve got to start somewhere.
The key thing, it seems, is that our current understanding of the onset of these seizures is so limited, that we have to assume that it could happen to anyone, anywhere, any time. Yes, even you. So the thing isn’t black and white – it’s all just a question of managing risk. Less than an hour before my first fit, aged 27 and with no precedent, I was in command of a motor vehicle. What I less at risk then than I am now? In a way, I presented a greater risk – at least now I’ve been thoroughly examined and tested by the finest in the field and, more significantly, I’m being treated. No such examination nor treatment was required for me to obtain a licence the first time round (just as well, or we’d all be on anticonvulsant medication).
So the law simply defines that, if you’ve not had a fit for a year, the level of risk doesn’t disappear but that it could be assumed to be back down to the same level as everybody else. It also says that just going for a year without driving isn’t enough – this is simply the shortest amount of time allowed, and then the final decision falls to the medical professionals.
Today is the anniversary of my most recent fit. As of today, I’ve done my year, so no longer is it the responsibility of a blanket law to keep me off the road. From today, the legal responsibility passes to the doctors who advise the DVLA, based on the findings of the doctors who advise me, and these are the people apparently reviewing the paperwork as we speak.
Given that I’ve served my year, done all the tests and shown nothing adverse, I don’t know of anything that could cause a refusal – the medical position seems to be that the whole thing’s under control, so I imagine now it’s just a question of pushing the paperwork around and ticking all the relevant boxes. They may not me the world’s most efficient organisation, but I’m pretty confident that they’ll have my driving licence back to me in due course.
This, however, will cause another shift. The moment I take back possession of my driving licence, there’s another shift in power – and responsibility. At this point, the law says I can drive, and the doctors say I can drive… but what does that mean in real terms? It means that the responsibility shifts again – to me. The law and the doctors will decide whether I can, but I must then decide whether I should.
Before surrendering it, I had held a licence for just 14 months – before that I had managed just fine for a quarter of a century without the freedom of motoring. In essence I hadn’t needed it before then, so if I need it now it’s only because of the lifestyle I have adopted. I now have to make decisions about that lifestyle, as it is nobody’s responsibility but my own.