The Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) has updated its guidance on HIV to reflect the most up-to-date clinical knowledge of living with HIV.

This follows collaborative work by the DVLA with Terrence Higgins Trust and the British HIV Association (BHIVA) to make the guidance far clearer and ensure that the DVLA requirements for driver licensing are accurate, medically necessary and don’t perpetuate HIV-related stigma.

HIV is not a health condition that the DVLA needs drivers to notify them about. However, until today, someone living with HIV was required to tell the DVLA if they ‘have AIDS’ – meaning an AIDS-defining illness – and could be fined £1,000 if they did not notify DVLA of this.

The vast majority of people living with HIV in the UK are accessing highly effective treatment and so will never have an AIDS-defining illness in the future, which means that the virus has no negative impact on their health or ability to drive safely.

However, the new rules now clearly specify the circumstances when someone living with HIV needs to contact the DVLA. These circumstances are:

  • The individual has been advised by a healthcare professional that they must inform the DVLA about a specific medical condition;
  • The individual develops any medical condition that may impact their ability to drive.

These are listed on a new page on the DVLA’s website called ‘HIV and driving’, which replaces two separate pages on HIV and AIDS. The new page continues to make it clear an individual usually does not have to tell the DVLA if they are living with HIV.

The DVLA guidance for medical professionals has also been updated to be more accurate and specific in terms of the circumstances which may affect safe driving based on the most up-to-date understanding of HIV. This includes clarity that if there has been no development of an AIDS defining illness affecting the brain, vision and/or physical disability which may impair the ability to drive, people with HIV may drive and do not need to inform DVLA.

These updates from the DVLA for both drivers and medics make it clear that for the overwhelming majority of people who are HIV positive, the condition won’t affect their ability to drive safely, and they don’t need to inform DVLA of their HIV status. It also sends a message to the wider public about how much medical progress has been made in successfully treating HIV.

The People First Charter promotes ‘person first’ language around HIV and sexual health, and the role of language in perpetuating stigma and discrimination. The DVLA’s changes include moving away from the term ‘AIDS’ to ‘advanced HIV’ and removing language like ‘HIV infection not advanced’ to ‘living with HIV and receiving treatment’.   

The changes follow an approach by Terrence Higgins Trust as they were concerned about the DVLA’s use of terms such as AIDS when medical terminology has been updated to reflect the impact of the transformative treatment now available. It was also unclear about which AIDS-defining illnesses were being referred to.

The DVLA was keen to work with Terrence Higgins Trust and the British HIV Association to make these changes to reflect the modern-day realities of living with HIV and remove outdated terminology.

Dr Kate Nambiar, Medical Director of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘We are determined to remove the unnecessary barriers affecting people living with HIV, which are hangovers from when living with HIV was very different. We thank the DVLA for working with us so collaboratively to update the language used around HIV and get rid of restrictions which had no reason to exist. These changes send a clear message that HIV has changed and policies and procedures need to reflect the reality of HIV today.’

Professor Yvonne Gilleece, Chair of the British HIV association, said: ‘We are delighted to see such progressive engagement from the DVLA to the approach from Terrence Higgins Trust and BHIVA to remove stigmatising language from the guidance for people living with HIV applying for a driving licence.  Language matters, as explained in the People First Charter, because the wrong language perpetuates stigma and discrimination. This change brings us closer to updating perceptions of HIV in civil society today.’

Lizzie Jordan, a driver living with HIV, said: ‘This is an important step by the DVLA. It’s so vital that society and all policies, processes and functions move forward to reflect the advances in HIV treatment which have changed the narrative around living with HIV today. It is only through changes like those made by the DVLA that stigma will reduce for the more than 100,000 of us living with HIV in the UK.’