Driving With Tourettes

Learning to drive and grasping the coordination needed to control a vehicle can be a tricky task for anyone, but the difficulty is often multiplied when you are living with a syndrome that affects your everyday life as a whole.

Tourette’s is an incurable syndrome that causes someone to form tics, some vocal and some physical. Common physical tics include blinking, jerking of the limbs or head and jumping. On the other hand, vocal tics can include just about everything from whistling and clicking to swearing and repeating random phrases. Both tic types make driving with Tourettes incredibly difficult.

Learning To Drive With Tourettes

Similarly to when driving with Autism or driving with ADHD, you must inform the DVLA about your medical condition when you apply for your provisional. They won’t discourage you from learning to drive with Tourettes or refuse your application; they just need to know whether they need to carry out an initial assessment to uncover the severity of your syndrome. The DVLA is also likely to ask you what medication you are on, again this won’t prove an issue, it is just in case your current medication makes you drowsy or could potentially affect your driving.

Making DVLA aware of all details regarding your condition means that they will be able to tailor their services to meet your requirements and make the process a straightforward as possible. For example, you can be allocated more time during your theory test.

How Tourettes Affects Driving

While vocal tics may be frustrating, physical tics most definitely have the most impact on an individual when learning to drive. One of the most common physical tics, as mentioned previously, is jerking of the arms or legs, which can be potentially fatal when in control of a vehicle.

A leg tic can cause a person to uncontrollably slam down the brake pedal or acceleration, which when surrounded by other road users, is incredibly dangerous.

While steering, an arm tic can cause someone to swerve into the direction of traffic, pedestrians or in fact, anything else in the way.

girl during her driving test

Tips For Driving With Tourettes

Take a look at our top tips for driving with Tourettes and for taking your driving test.

  • Assuming you have been approved by the DVLA to drive, the best thing to do is inform your instructor early on about your condition and how severe tics may become. In most instances, Tourettes becomes worse when you are under pressure, nervous or not feeling at ease. Unfortunately, you will probably feel all of these when first meeting your instructor and especially on your driving test, so letting them know immediately will help them to be more patient and tailor their teaching methods. We once had a pupil who was taking driving lessons in Forest of Dean and for the first 5 hours of lessons, was too nervous to tell their instructor about having Tourettes, which multiplied nerves even more as he was trying to hide tics. His instructor noticed a pattern, due to teaching a past pupil with the same tics, and after being honest about the reason why he was struggling, they were able to find a method that worked perfectly, and the severity of tics suddenly decreased.
  • Before you take your driving test, it might be worth speaking to your instructor and agreeing to advise the driving examiner at the beginning of the test of your medical condition. Don’t worry, you aren’t the first person to take a driving test with Tourettes, but advising the examiner will help them understand any untoward words or tic movements/twitches throughout the test.
  • Practice under test conditions. As you approach your driving test, you benefit from mock tests or even getting family members or friends to sit in on your lessons. This may get you used to the extra pressure so that the test day won’t feel so uneasy. You could even get insured on a family member or friends car as a provisional licence holder for additional practice, but similar to when applying for a provisional or booking your test, you will need to inform your chosen insurance company of your Tourettes syndrome.
  • What makes you feel at ease? For some people its music. You are allowed to take your driving test with some low volume music/radio in the background. If this helps reduce your Tourettes then, again, advise your examiner beginning of the test that it helps and it will make you feel more comfortable under the driving test pressure, they will allow you to have some background sounds.
  • If you have severe tics, you will need to listen to your instructor and follow his/her guidance about when to take your test. The examiner must feel reasonably safe throughout the test and, unfortunately, if they don’t, they may abort the test. Any unusual use of the brake pedal or sudden movements with the steering wheel may make the examiner feel uneasy, therefore resulting in the test being aborted. If you can control these movements, so they are very minor then you should be okay but always check/consult this with your instructor before booking.
  • Extra medication to calm your nerves. It might be worth consulting your local GP to explain that your driving test is coming up and you are worried about the tics becoming more uncontrollable during your test. Your GP may be able to prescribe you with beta blockers or something similar which may help. You’d be surprised how much calming medication can help you to remain composed during your test. We have a driving instructor in Halifax who has been teaching for over 20 years and has taught several different students who have been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. He once had a pupil who wanted to trail a test with no medication, unfortunately, had to terminate their test after 20 minutes due to nerves, then tried again after taking beta blockers and passed with flying colours. Although medication is helpful more times than not, always try the medication in your lessons leading up to your test first in case you have an unrated reaction or strange side effects.
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