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The Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) has finally updated its guidance for people living with HIV to reflect the huge medical advances that have been made in recent decades. The changes, which were published on 15 January, have been described as an “important step” in removing “unnecessary barriers affecting people living with HIV” in the UK. Terrence Higgins Trust, the country’s leading sexual health charity, and the British HIV Association (BHIVA), an organisation of healthcare professionals interested in the treatment and care of people with HIV, worked collaboratively with the DVLA to ensure the updated guidance reflects the reality of having HIV in 2024 and does not perpetuate stigma and discrimination through outdated terminology. Here, GAY TIMES breaks down what the new guidance says and why the updated language is so important. 

What did the old DVLA guidance say?

Although drivers did not need to tell the DVLA if they were living with HIV, they were required to inform the organisation if they “have AIDS” – a term that is believed to have meant any AIDS-defining illness. Prior to the implementation of the new policy, those who failed to do so could be fined £1,000.

What’s changed in the new guidance? 

There is now a new page on the DVLA’s website titled ‘HIV and driving’ which replaces two separate pages on HIV and AIDS. It clarifies that people living with HIV only need to share their status if they develop a health condition that affects their driving, which will never be the case for most people living with HIV. It lists specific circumstances where a driver should tell the DVLA that they have HIV, which 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.

The language used in the DVLA guidance for medical professionals has also been updated to reflect the most current understandings of HIV. The vast majority of people living with the virus will never develop an AIDS-defining illness that affects the brain, vision and/or physical disability, meaning they will never need to share their status with the DVLA.

Why is this update important for people living with HIV?

Approximately 99 per cent of the people who have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK are receiving treatment, meaning they will never develop an AIDS-defining illness. The virus will therefore have no impact on their health or ability to drive safely, meaning guidance urging drivers who “have AIDS” to tell the DVLA was outdated and helped to perpetuate stigma. According to Positive Voices 2022, the UK’s largest survey of people living with HIV, one in 25 people reported having been verbally harassed because of their HIV status in the last year – highlighting the importance of getting messaging around the virus right. “Language matters, as explained in Positive Voices 2022, because the wrong language perpetuates stigma and discrimination,” said Professor Yvonne Gilleece, Chair of the BHIVA. “This change brings us closer to updating perceptions of HIV in civil society today.”

It’s also important to recognise the massive medical advances made since the epidemic began in the 1980s, which guidance from bodies like the DVLA needs to reflect. Dr Kate Nambiar, Medical Director of Terrence Higgins Trust, added: “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.”