THE ability to drive a motor vehicle means being able to move independently for most people.
For the disabled, being able to drive enables them to travel efficiently to any place, including for work, and the chance to enjoy independent living. Based on the Road Transport Department’s (JPJ) latest records, the country has 84,927 registered disabled drivers with licence.
They have either an A or A1 licence for motorcycle and car respectively.
The JPJ said that to their knowledge, only one driving school in Malaysia – located in Petaling Jaya, Selangor – had experienced instructors to coach disabled (OKU) drivers.
In addition, most driving schools in the country lack disabled-friendly facilities. The location for the theory examination is commonly not wheelchair-friendly.
Also, unlike the able-bodied, the disabled are required to bring their own modified and Puspakom-certified vehicles for the lessons and for the test.
StarMetro spoke to disabled drivers, their community leaders, a driving centre that caters to training the disabled and to JPJ director-general Datuk Seri Nadzri Siron about the issue.
Siti Zuraidah Muhammad Husain is a paraplegic and has been using a wheelchair since she was 12.
When she wanted to learn how to drive a car, she went to Safety Driving Centre in Petaling Jaya.
“I had to travel from Batu Caves to Petaling Jaya to learn driving.
“I was surprised no other driving school in the country offered training for the disabled,” she said.
Siti borrowed her disabled friend’s modified car and used it for her driving lessons and on-the-road test.
Aveena Devi Krishna Kumar, 23, who suffers from spina bifida, recently got her driver's licence but the process was a difficult one.
She said her theory examination locations were not accessible by wheelchair.
“It may sound basic but most of these locations do not even have ramps. People have to lift me in my wheelchair at some spots to get to the location.
“I managed to go to a centre in Bangi for the theory exam and even that place was not wheelchair-friendly.
“Luckily, I had my parents with me there, and they made sure everything was done accordingly.
“Not everyone is as fortunate. The system has to be made simpler for the disabled,” she said.
Aveena’s mother Krishnaveni Krishnan said the authorities should consider subsidising the cost of training.
The disabled would typically need extra classes to be more confident on the road. She said in total her daughter spent close to RM3,300, including the cost to modify her car and for the lessons.
“If an able-bodied person requires 10 hours of training, the disabled may need 20, just so they are more confident on the road.
“The cost will escalate and this will discourage them.
“We hope the authorities will provide subsidy for the disabled to take driving lessons,” said Krishnaveni.
She hopes the authorities will offer driving schools some form of incentive to enable them to have modified cars for the OKU to use in their driving lessons.
“This will reduce the burden on the disabled to buy or borrow a vehicle before they can start the driving lessons,” she said.
Aveena’s father K. Krishnakumar said the OKU needed a good support structure and inclusiveness in society so that their needs are catered to.
Beautiful Gates Foundation co-founder Sia Siew Chin said the process for a disabled to get a driving licence was burdensome.
To ease the burden, the foundation helps the OKU with the required forms and takes them to the hospital department that conducts the physical examination.
“It is not easy for the OKU to move about and have all the required documentation in place.
“Authorities should look at ways to make the process simpler and less taxing,” said Sia, who is also a Petaling Jaya city councillor.
Senator Bathmavathi Krishnan said it was timely for JPJ and other relevant authorities to make it mandatory for driving schools to be OKU-friendly.
She said the authorities should provide incentives for at least one driving school in major cities and districts to have trainers for the disabled.
“It should be made mandatory to give them the needed push,” said Bathmavathi, who is also founder president of Association of Women With Disabilities Malaysia.
She echoed the need for driving schools to have modified cars catering to common disabilities.
“Not everyone is able to buy a car or motorcycle and modify it before they learn to drive,” she said.