A licence to drive? Neurological illness, loss and disruption

Melissa Stepney (Corresponding Author), Susan Kirkpatrick, Louise Locock, Suman Prinjha, Sara Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


The sense of freedom and independence that being able to drive generates
may be taken for granted by many until it is threatened by illness. Drawing
on the ‘mobility turn’ in social sciences that emphasises the social and
emotional significance of the car (Sheller and Urry 2006; 2000), this paper
presents secondary analysis of narratives of driving and its significance
across four neurological conditions (epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, transient
ischaemic attack and motor neurone disease). Taking an interactionist
approach we explore how the withdrawal of a driving licence can represent
not just a practical and emotional loss of independence, but also loss of
enjoyment; of a sense and feeling of ‘normal’ adulthood and social
participation; and of an identity (in some cases gendered) of strength and
power. Conversely the ability to keep driving can maintain an unbroken
thread of narrative, for example enabling people with speech difficulties to
feel and look normal behind the wheel. Moments of pleasure and normality
illuminate the importance of examining the micro-strands of disruption illness
can cause.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1186-1199
Number of pages14
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Issue number7
Early online date22 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the participants who gave us their time in the four original projects. We would like to thank Dr Carol Dumelow and Dr Rachel Miller who conducted the interviews for MND and Parkinson’s and Nia Roberts for conducting a literature search for the epilepsy module. Thank you to performers at a fundraising event for Parkinson’s hosted by the Oxford Playhouse. During the writing of this article Louise Locock was supported by NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. We would also like to thank the two anonymous
peer reviewers for their helpful insights and guidance.
Funding for the four original projects was through: MND Association (MND), NHS Service Delivery and Organisation Research and Development Programme (Parkinson’s & MND); Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement Welton Foundation (epilepsy); the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR National School for Primary Care Research; (TIA). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the NHS or the Department of Health.


  • emotions
  • embodiment
  • experience of illness
  • secondary analysis


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