Disabled Parking Badges To Be Offered To Drivers With Mental Health Problems
Starting next year, UK drivers with mental health problems will be eligible to apply to receive a blue badge parking permit.
This means that people with non-visible disabilities such as autism, as well as less obvious mental health issues will be able to park in disabled spaces, just the same as those with physical disabilities.
This decision has been made by the Department of Transport and represents the largest overhaul of the system for more than 40 years.
The government said that the current system lacks clarity, though it does not completely exclude those with mental disabilities as opposed to physical from possessing a blue badge.
They said that the rules are 'open to interpretation' from local authorities and this move seeks to clear up any confusion there might be.
Jesse Norman, the UK's Minister for Transport, said: "Blue badges are a lifeline for disabled people, giving them the freedom and confidence to get to work and visit friends independently.
"The changes we have announced today will ensure that this scheme is extended equally to people with hidden disabilities so that they can enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted."
So, under the new rules, people who are eligible to hold a blue badge parking permit include people who suffer from 'very considerable psychological distress' when travelling, people with difficulty walking - although this does not just mean physical disabilities and takes into account 'both the physical act and the experience of walking', and those who cannot travel without 'a risk of serious harm to their health and safety' or that of others.
This last point includes those who have children with autism.
There are currently around 2.4m blue badges held by disabled people in the UK. The scheme, which was launched in 1970, allows disabled people to park for free in pay and display car parks, as well as for up to three hours in areas that are covered by yellow lines.
In London, badge holders are also exempt from the Congestion Charge.
Three out of four disabled badge holders say that they wouldn't leave the house as often if they didn't have their blue badge.
Jane Harris, of the National Autistic Society, said that this amendment to the eligibility rules would "make a massive difference to the lives of many of the 600,000 autistic people in England, and their families."
She continued: Just leaving the house is a challenge for many autistic people, involving detailed preparation - and sometimes overwhelming anxiety about plans going wrong.
"And some autistic people might not be aware of the dangers of the road or become overwhelmed by busy or loud environments. The possibility of not being able to find a parking space near where you're going can mean you can't contemplate leaving the house at all."
Featured Image Credit: PA