The forthcoming change to all practical driving tests to include a
section of independent driving has led to a useful and constructive
collaboration between the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and the British
Dyslexia Association to try and find reasonable adjustments for this
element of the test for those people who have dyslexia.
The following questions and answers describe the potential issues and the solutions being implemented.
Why might some elements of the test be a problem for dyslexic people?
A lot of people, with dyslexia, have a weaker working memory. Working
memory is that part of the memory system responsible for taking in
information and manipulating it. Anyone with a weak working memory might
have a problem coping with multiple instructions, as happens in the
Independent Driving section.
This only affects a few people though doesn’t it?
No, we’re talking about a lot of people. The genetic predisposition
for dyslexia exists in 15 per cent of the population, that’s one in
seven of all people.
However, the condition covers a range from very slightly to very
significantly affected. We believe 10 per cent of people are affected to
a practical degree and four per cent of these are seriously impacted.
So this may well affect seven million people in the UK.
What other issues do dyslexic people have?
The condition can confer strengths as well as weaknesses. So dyslexic people can have any or some of the following:
- problem solving skills
- 3D visualisation
- global picturing
- verbal communication
- weak working memory
- auditory memory problems
- difficulty with focussing, easily distracted
- difficulty identifying left from right
- visual distraction, visual memory issues
- slower processing speed in the brain
What affect does this have on learning to drive?
The deficits of dyslexia can have a profound effect on learning but
with appropriate teaching, this can be mitigated. The key is to use
multi sensory learning and to ensure that new information or skills are
So, if someone has poor visual memory, then use their auditory or
tactile memory to compensate. They are likely to need lots of
reinforcement to embed learning from the short term memory but most
dyslexic people have excellent long term memories so they need to be
able to make use of this.
- make sure they are not overloaded with instructions
as this causes real problems for those with a weaker working memory;
little and often is a good mantra
- watch out for those with weak spatial awareness or lack of
recognition of left and right – they may need to be told to go “your
way, or my way”; ask the person how they learn best and follow their
effective methods for them
- for helping an individual memorise something, get them to suggest a
memory peg such as a rhyme or a picture they can visualise or something
very zany; all this helps make the memory more memorable!
What adjustments are DSA putting in place for the independent driving section?
These will depend on the particular difficulties the dyslexic person
has, as all are different. So examiners will be asking the person what
adjustments they require. These will include:
- asking the person’s preference for verbal directions or for following signs during the independent driving section
- showing a simple diagram before the independent driving section;
this will be reproduced on cream vellum paper which cuts down on visual
- if helpful, adding visual clues to the diagram, such as a
supermarket or petrol station on route, or telling the candidate the
number of the exit point on roundabouts (for example, ‘It’s the third
- using landmarks such as ‘take the first left, it’s just past the cinema’
- continuing to give directions singly throughout the driving test,
and for the independent driving section, giving no more than two
directions at a time
- adapting directions from right and left to your side, my side
ask all candidates if they would like to take their driving instructor,
or the person who has accompanied them, with them on their driving
test. For someone with dyslexia it may really help having someone there
in the car to calm their nerves (the dyslexic person’s weaknesses can be
worse when they are stressed).
DSA has confirmed that driving examiners conduct thousands of driving
tests every year and are very experienced and skilled in dealing with
candidates with all sorts of special needs. They are also very aware
that people can be nervous and will make every effort to put all
candidates at ease.
Examiners are there to assess the person’s ability to drive safely –
not their ability to remember directions and the person needs to check
with the examiner if they are going the right way they can do so, as
they can now.
If I want more information on dyslexia, where do I go?
Throughout the individual’s ‘journey’ in learning to drive, aspects
of dyslexia should be positively looked for in order to provide the
required support. Many adults do not know they are dyslexic as it was
not identified when they were at school.
The British Dyslexia Association represents dyslexic people of all
ages and attempts to get change towards a dyslexia friendly world. They
run training for parents, educators and employers, have conferences, a
mentoring scheme, an e shop and many fun things you can join in with
23 August 2010