A guide to getting a NSW driver’s licence while living with a disability
Getting a driver’s licence is an important milestone in many young (and some older) people’s lives. It gives you freedom of movement and independence.
If you’re living with a disability, a driver’s licence doesn’t necessarily need to be out of the question. There just might be a few adjustments and extra tests to ensure you’re safe on the road and your car is equipped for you to have full control of it.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- The NSW licencing system and driver’s licence eligibility
- Medical and Occupational Therapy Assessments for people with a disability
- Getting your learner’s permit
- Specialised driving instructors and schools
- Getting practical driving experience
- The driver’s test and types of licences
- Helpful resources
Let’s dive in.
The NSW licencing system and driver’s licence eligibility
In the NSW (and the rest of Australia), a Graduated Licensing Scheme (GLS) is in place to take you from L plates to a full licence and ensure you’re a safe and low-risk driver.
A safe driver should:
- Have a good understanding of road rules and safety
- Be able to recognise potential road hazards
- Have developed driving skills such as good decision-making, knowing how to share the road, and being aware of other drivers
In NSW, the minimum age for getting your learner’s permit is 16 years.
If you have a disability that could affect your driving, you’ll need to notify Transport NSW. In fact, you have a legal obligation to do so. They’ll let you know if you need to get additional assessments in order to get your driving licence.
You can contact them via phone (13 22 13), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by visiting a service centre.
Medical and Occupational Therapy assessments
If Transport NSW decides you need a medical assessment, your first port of call would be your doctor who can do a Medical Assessment for Fitness to Drive. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend you get an Occupational Therapist Driver Assessment and/or Disability Driving Test.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) who are qualified to assess your on-road and off-road driving will look at:
- Your response time, physical ability, judgement, ability to self-monitor
- Your understanding of road rules and how you apply them
- Whether you need specialised equipment or vehicle modifications
- Your ability to control your vehicle and drive safely
Your OT will then send a report to Transport NSW with recommendations for vehicle modifications (if necessary), driver testing and reassessment time frames.
(See our link below for finding an OT to assess you)
Getting your learner’s permit
Your learner’s permit is the first official step of the GLS towards getting your licence. To get one, you need to sit the Driver Knowledge Test (DKT) – a computer-based test with 45 questions around road rules and road safety.
When you sit the test, if you need some help with the questions, you can get a staff member to assist you by reading the questions and explaining them.
Once you pass your test, you’ll get a learner’s logbook or you can download the logbook app. You need to track your time every time you practise driving. To move on to the next licence level, you’ll need 120 hours of supervised driving practice.
Some important things to remember as a learner driver:
- You must have a licensed driver with you at all times when driving and they need to hold a full Australian licence.
- You must drive a vehicle with seatbelts and be sure to wear yours.
- Your L plates must be clearly displayed on the front and back exterior of your car.
- You must not exceed 90 km/h.
- You must not use a mobile device at all.
- You must not tow a vehicle.
- You must not have any alcohol or illicit drugs in your system.
- If you’re driving in Sydney, you’re not allowed to drive in Parramatta Park, Moore Park or Centennial Park.
Specialised driving instructors and schools
If you have a disability, it might be a good idea to take lessons with a specialised driving instructor. For cognitive disabilities, these instructors specialise in training neurodiverse learners and can adapt their teaching style to best suit the learner’s learning style. For physical disabilities, specialised driving schools also have modified vehicles tailored to make driving safe and accessible.
Using these resources will help you feel more confident and in control on the road and will likely take some of the stress and nervousness out of learning to drive.
(See below for a list of schools that offer specialised driving instruction.)
Getting practical driving experience
If your OT has recommended vehicle modifications, you’ll need to get them done before you start driving. They will also make you feel more comfortable and safer while driving.
Vehicles can be modified with:
- Steering aids – Your steering wheel can be fitted with a steering ball to enable one-handed driving, you can use steering gloves to improve your grip, or steering wheels can be lightened or made smaller.
- Acceleration adaptations – Left-foot accelerators can be fitted if you’re unable to use your right foot, or hand controls can be fitted if you’re unable to use your feet to accelerate and brake.
- Mirror aids – extended or extra mirrors can be fitted to the vehicle to help you see better.
- Custom seats – Seats can be made to swivel or move in a specific way to help you get in and out of the vehicle and have a more comfortable drive.
- Accessibility features – Vehicles can be fitted with wider doors, ramps, access lifts and a wheelchair space.
Just remember to speak to a Vehicle Safety Compliance Certification Scheme licence certifier before you make any modifications to your car. They’ll ensure your modifications will meet legal requirements.
If you have a condition for modification on your licence due to your disability, you may be able to get NDIS funding for your vehicle modifications.
Tips for on-road practice
- Get into the habit of scanning for hazards and anticipating potential risks. This will help you when it comes time for your Hazard Perception Test.
- Review the road rules so you have a clear understanding of safe driving and your state’s rules.
- Practise your parking so you can master the different parking types in the test – parallel, angle parking and reverse parking.
- Stay calm and go slow – other drivers can pass you if they like, but we were all learners once and you don’t need to rush. It’s also a good idea to practise stress-management techniques like breathing, visualisation and counting.
The driver’s test and types of licences
You’ll also need to sit the Hazard Perception Test. This is a computer-based test that you need to pass to ensure you have adequate hazard perception skills to drive on your own.
To prepare for the test, you can study up with the Hazard Protection Handbook. When you sit the test, if you need some help with the questions, you can get a staff member to assist you by reading the questions and explaining them.
Disability driving test
The disability driving test is fundamentally no different from the standard driving test, but will have any additions recommended by your OT during your OT driving assessment.
If they’ve recommended you drive in a modified vehicle, you’ll need to pass your driving test in a vehicle with those modifications.
Driving test eligibility checklist:
- Am I at least 17 years old?
- Have I completed a Licence Application (PDF 222.41KB)?
- Have I got proof of identity?
- Have I passed an OT driving assessment?
- Have I completed 120 logbook hours of driving practice? (If you’re over 25, you’re exempt from this requirement).
- Have I held my learner’s licence for at least 12 months? (If you’re over 25, you’re exempt from this requirement).
- Have I passed an eyesight test?
- Have I passed the Hazard Perception Test?
- Do I have a vehicle with the right modifications?
- Do I have my glasses or contact lenses if I need them to see well?
- Can I pay the test fee?
Once you’ve passed your driving test, you’ll be issued a P1 provisional licence. You must hold this for a year before you can go on to P2. You must then be on P2 for an additional two years before you can get a full open licence.
So, to recap….
Step 1: Contact Transport NSW to see if you need any medical assessments to get a licence.
Step 2: Get your medical assessments.
Step 3: Sit your learner’s test and get a logbook.
Step 4: Practise driving with a licensed supervisor and/or take lessons with a specialised instructor.
Step 5: Sit your Hazard Perception Test.
Step 6: Do your Driving Test.
You can find a wealth of resources below and the step-by-step process on the Transport NSW website. While it may seem like a long road, you just need to take it one step at a time. In the end, it will be one of the best decisions you make when you can hit the road and go wherever you want, whenever you want. The freedom and independence that driving will give you will be well worth the initial effort.
Links to the official NSW Transport website
Occupational therapy services
List of specialised driving instructors