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Home News and media centre News Without a licence, you are trapped

Without a licence, you are trapped

National Older Persons Reference Group member Gwenda Darling.

If I hadn’t handed in my driver’s licence, it would have been taken off me. A few weeks earlier, I had been sitting at a set of traffic lights. I saw the light go green and I drove off. But it was a green arrow not a green light. I hadn’t processed the difference. A couple of days later, I merged onto the freeway. I thought: ‘why is that person honking at me?’ Then I realised I was still in second gear.

I live with frontotemporal dementia. When I discussed my concerns with my GP, he told me he would need to alert the RTA. I knew I wouldn’t pass the OT (occupational therapy) test, so I made the decision that I was going in with my head held high. Yes, I gave up my licence, but I did it my way.

Loss and grief

The loss and grief associated with relinquishing your licence is the reason I chose to take control. When you give up your licence, you are totally trapped – especially living in a rural area, as I do.

It might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s almost being in prison. When you do go out, it’s like you’ve got your warder with you. Because you can’t go anywhere alone. Whether it’s a loved one or a paid worker, it makes no difference.

A family member might say they are happy to sit in the car and read their book, but you are always conscious there is someone waiting for you.  If you want something from Big W, for example, you try to get it as quickly as possible. When you get back to the car, they say: ‘you were a long time.’ You have to justify that: ‘I had to try on three items of clothing to get the right one.’

A constant reminder of your dependence

When a support worker takes you to the supermarket, they question your choices. If I fill my shopping trolley, they say: ‘can you afford to pay for all that?’ But you know you won’t be back for three weeks. If a meringue catches your eye, you grab it. ‘That’s got a lot of sugar in it,’ they’ll comment. It’s a loss of freedom in more ways than just losing a car. It’s that constant reminder of how dependent you are on someone to take you places.

The Department of Health and Aged Care talks about community transport, but there are three community transport cars where I live. One does a chemotherapy run to Albury. One does a dialysis run in the opposite direction to Deniliquin. The third one is available to go to the local doctor in town.

I’ve had to flag someone down

If I want to go to the hospital in Shepperton, I have to get a support worker out of my Home Care Package and pay 80c per kilometre. I try to line my medical appointments up, but that’s not easy with specialists.

When you are forced to give up your licence, you need to find a team of people who can support you at the times you need to go.  I’ve been in situations where I literally haven’t known what to do. Once my dog got bitten by a snake. I had to stand on the highway, trying to flag someone down.

I have a favourite taxi driver. I ring the night before and say are you free at 11am? The local community Facebook page is another good option. You can ask if anyone is going to the nearest city tomorrow. Could I get a lift?

When you are forced to relinquish your licence, you need to find out ways to navigate your freedom. Your mobility aids must be fit for purpose, such as an all-terrain mobility walker that is suitable for going over gravel and grass so you can take your dog for a walk.

After grief comes acceptance

Being forced to give up your licence represents a huge loss, but it does remove the financial stress of running a car. And that is a kind of freedom.

List all the things you have lost, grieve them one by one. Write them out, burn them, bury them under the tree, and then nurture that tree. Because this is a new part of your life and you need to move on with living.

Further information

If you are having difficulty accessing transport as part of the Commonwealth Home Support and Home Care Package programs, you can call OPAN on 1800700600 for information and support.

Read our Transport Position Statement >