A wonderful question was brought up at our Amputees Together support group meeting last night. A common question for a new amputee, whether he or she has experienced upper or lower extremity amputation, is... "How will I drive?"
Many of us in the limb loss community experienced anxiety when anticipating post-amputation driving. Personally, as a congenital right above knee amputee, I tuck my prosthesis back and use my left foot for both the brake and gas. As a teenager, I was evaluated with this method and the driving instructor concluded this method was safe for me. More importantly, I was comfortable. But what about people who experience amputation as adults?
There are many vehicle modifications that can be made to accommodate limb loss. Three common examples are a left foot accelerator extension, hand controls, and driving pins on the steering wheel (for upper extremity amputees). Funding for car modifications is a major issue. For individuals looking to join to the work force, or already working, Vocational Rehabilitation may consider funding for such modifications. Funding from local charities is also a possibility.
To determine whether a vehicle modification is necessary, and to develop the safest method for driving, a new amputee should be re-evaluated by a driving instructor. Information on this can be found at any DMV office. This evaluation would ideally occur post-prosthetic fitting, if a prosthesis will be utilized. There may be limitations placed on the amputee’s license. I am only authorized to drive an automatic. If I do otherwise, I would be held liable for damage if an accident occurs.
The vehicle itself also has a role to play. I purchased a vehicle with plenty of leg room and a removable middle console (Honda CRV), so that I have more room for my prosthesis. Also, the steering wheel is highly adjustable.
What’s interesting is that you can have two amputees, same amputation level, and each person may use a very different method of driving. Some below the knee amputees are able to drive stick shift. Some do not feel comfortable doing this. Some people opt to remove the lower extremity prosthesis entirely for driving. Many people simply figure out their own way, the way that feels most comfortable for them. I’m sure that many people do not seek re-evaluation by a driving instructor, though I believe safety is the most critical thing to consider.
I’d be interested in hearing from others on this… how did you learn to drive post-amputation? What was your experience like?