A Driving Instructor's Blog

William Merritt Centre website

This is a sponsored article on behalf of Kate McKinlay.


Seven years ago I changed my life for the better and qualified as a Driving Instructor and have never looked back.

To say I am passionate about my job is an understatement. My friends and family regularly have to tell me (in the nicest possible way) to shut up, as once I start talking about my job I become very animated and focused.

To be able to give someone a new life skill is a privilege and I relish finding new ways to help a client learn to drive.

It is a skill that most of us take for granted and that at some stage we will learn to drive and then depend on that skill to keep us independent into our old age.

Within my first two of years as an ADI, I found that while teaching people to drive was very satisfying, I got the most out of coaching people who suffer with high levels of anxiety and depression.

Every lesson for them is like climbing Mount Everest and they constantly need reminding of the great freedom it will give them, once they achieve their goal.

With each client I took on with this problem, I had to learn a lot about their everyday life and the problems they faced. This meant often meant that I was an agony aunt, councillor or general sounding board. I never once felt that this was a burden, as it gave me the chance to build a good relationship with them, which in turn meant they trusted me and I was able to help them much more effectively.

In most cases, patience and understanding of their worries was paramount in teaching them to drive, but the reward in seeing them achieve their goal was immeasurable.

About 18 months ago, the Driving Instructors Association, that I am a member of, was invited along to The William Merritt Disabled Living Centre, where they do driving assessments to not only assess a person’s ability to drive safely, but

Advise on the correct adaptations to enable a disabled person to drive.  I jumped at the chance to see if there was a new challenge for me and 18 months down the line I am now doing 3 days a week doing driving assessments.

Assessing someone, to see if their medical condition is impacting on their ability to drive safely is often very challenging and I must admit to having a few hairy moments, but it certainly keeps you on the ball and each case has its unique challenges.

Driving assessments, are sadly on the increase, due to an ageing population and all the infirmities that go with it, but where ever possible we want to keep people mobile and independent for as long as possible.

Assessing if someone’s illness is affecting their driving, is very different from teaching someone to drive. I have learnt a great deal about many medical conditions and the effect they have on individuals.

Our biggest client base is Dementia and Stroke and these can be equally challenging when trying to assess a person’s ability to drive. 

With Dementia you are looking to see if their reactions, processing skills, visual spatial awareness and their ability to control the car, are still within safe parameters and all the while trying not to intervene.

For example, on a recent assessment of a gentleman diagnosed with Dementia, he consistently drifted to the right, failed to respond to developing hazards and struggled constantly to coordinate clutch and gear, this meant that I was giving directions, watching the road, watching the client and at the same time keeping us and other road users safe. Woo Hoo fun and games, but oh so interesting,

But had this been a normal driving lesson, I would have been asking my student to pull over and asking them about their road position, then getting them to see and deal with the developing hazards etc.; but on an assessment you need to gather as much evidence of their driving to be able to make an informed decision on their ability to drive safely.

Assessing a disabled person for the best adaptation to enable them to learn or return to driving is, for me, the most satisfying part of the job. I have learnt so much about the adaptions that are available on the market today, that I am now knowledgeable enough to be able to give some useful advice when asked. I have also “nearly “learnt to drive with all of them and this is greatly to my advantage when I am teaching a client to use them for the first time.

I am now confident and comfortable teaching various hand controls and left foot accelerator and enjoy nothing more than seeing the sheer joy on a client’s face, when they can achieve their goal of driving, giving them back a chance to be independent and achieve other goals, such as getting or retaining employment.

In an ideal world it would be straight forward to achieve these everyday goals, but sadly it is still a challenge for disabled people to access the help they need.

One of the greatest problems they face is the sheer lack of ADI,s who are willing and able to take on these clients.

We are struggling more and more to find ADIs in the areas where they are needed and the few we do have are overrun with work.

So, if  like me you enjoy a new challenge and feel you could give and receive more from your chosen career, take a moment to look into making another person’s life much less of a fight, to achieve what we take for granted.

Kate McKinlay ADI

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