Parkinson’s disease driver in ‘drunk’ ban
Sandy Adams, 69, was stopped by police 14 times in just a few months and on one occasion was forced to take a breath test six times to prove he had not been drinking.
Although he explained he had the neurological condition but was still fit to drive, and had never being charged with any offence, the DVLA refused to renew his licence after receiving reports from Tayside Police that he had been “unsteady on his feet”.
Adams initially challenged the decision but dropped the case due to the cost and the stress of the situation causing his symptoms to worsen. He and his wife now have to spend up to £200 a month on taxis.
This week, Parkinson’s UK will warn that people with the condition can suffer extreme discrimination and prejudice, and will call for greater understanding as part of an awareness campaign.
The condition, which affects one in 500 people, can cause a range of symptoms including problems with movement and speech, depression and pain. Adams, from Perth, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago, but began suffering symptoms four years earlier, forcing him into early retirement.
He was first stopped by police in 2011 after someone reported seeing him speeding. His car was surrounded by two police cars and a police bike.
Adams said he was then forced to take a breath test six times by the officers, despite the fact he had not been drinking and was not speeding.
“I felt humiliated being breath tested when I hadn’t been drinking,” he said.
He was also asked to prove his driving ability by driving around the block, which he did without any problem. He thought this was an end to the issue, but in the next few months he was stopped and questioned a further 13 times, often after people reported seeing his unsteady footing as he got into his car. Adams said his doctor had cleared him as fit to drive and there were no concerns about his driving ability.
“I have never had an accident in 40 years,” he said. “In the 14 times they stopped me, they never charged me once.”
He was shocked when his application to renew his driving licence was refused.
He said the DVLA informed him that Tayside Police had passed on 14 reports which stated that “on leaving his car he was unsteady on his feet”. But when he was driving, his condition did not affect him as this did not require him to put the same pressure on his legs as walking.
Adams began trying to appeal through his solicitor but has now dropped the case as his symptoms had got worse.
“Stress is the worst thing for exacerbating the symptoms of Parkinson’s. So when they took my licence away they made it worse because of the upset it caused,” he said.
“It was one of the most stressful things in my life in recent years. I could have had a few more months of being able to drive, go to the local coffee bar and other places. Not being able to drive takes an awful lot away from you.”
Adams and his wife June now spend around £200 a month on taxis to help them get around.
Katherine Crawford, a Parkinson’s UK Scotland manager, said people with the condition who may have problems with their driving should inform the DVLA. “But most people with Parkinson’s do continue to drive for a number of years so it is not a barrier to driving,” she said. “But what can happen is that people can report seeing someone walking to their car and because their gait is unsteady and they have difficulty with movement they think they are drunk.
“People find that very distressing, that public misconception of what the symptoms of Parkinson’s are and the lack of knowledge they have about Parkinson’s.”
Crawford said people could also face discrimination at work, with employers failing to make adjustments to help them or again mistaking their symptoms for drunkenness.
A spokeswoman for the Tayside division of the new body Police Scotland said: “Whilst Police Scotland cannot comment on individual cases, where an officer is informed of a medical condition that may affect a person’s ability to drive, enquiry is made and if deemed appropriate, the circumstances of such matters are intimated to the DVLA for further consideration.”
A DVLA spokesman said: “We have special arrangements with medics and police for them to notify us quickly about diagnosed or suspected health problems and we investigate these urgently.”