When you lose part of your body to amputation, it can be a long road to recovery, both physically and mentally. On top of the time spent healing from the surgery, going through physical therapy, and adapting to the use of a prosthetic limb, there is also a loss that needs to be grieved and a new way of life that needs to be adopted. Part of this new life is wrestling with how your amputation will impact your mobility and independence. Once daily tasks such as driving become difficult or seemingly impossible, and you may be tempted to give up. But don’t throw away the keys yet, there’s good news. In most cases, with rehab, training, and possibly some adaptive driving devices, you can get back behind the wheel and continue living your life in freedom.
Regardless of which limbs are affected or how much of the limb has been removed, it can be possible to make a full return to driving in most cases with the right combination of time, rehab, and adaptive devices. Some leg amputees may be able to continue or relearn how to operate the gas, brakes and clutch with their good leg or with their prosthetic. Others may require special adaptive devices such as hand controls.
Some amputees may find that their prosthetics are helpful when it comes to driving, but others may find them clumsy, awkward, and in the way, and may choose to remove them in order to operate vehicle controls.
Arm amputees may likewise be able to continue or relearn how to drive with their prosthesis, or they may need special adaptive devices to operate the steering wheel, horn, signals, and other controls.
Jill Harpin is a 26 year old woman from Wolcott. While on vacation in Mexico, she suffered a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Watch this video to hear her inspirational outlook on life after an SCI.
Make sure you take the time to adequately recover before you take on driving again. Eat well and get plenty of sleep so your body can heal. You may feel like rushing back in to resume normal life as quickly as possible, but if you do not give your body the time it needs to recover, you put yourself at risk for further injury, and you may also jeopardize the safety of others on the road.
It is very important that you follow the advice of your physician and physical therapist. Discuss with them your goals for driving and ask them to teach you exercises that can improve your strength, flexibility, coordination, and overall functionality. This allows you to maximize your physical ability to operate a vehicle again. The exact therapy activities you do will depend largely on the type and severity of your amputation.
There are no laws in Connecticut that specify that a driver must stop driving if they have an amputation. That being said, it is important for you to talk to your physician and physical therapist about what you will need to do to return to driving. There will be a period of time immediately following the amputation where driving is not possible. Ask your physician to help you create a transportation plan to help you get around until you are ready to return to driving.
It is important that you ask your doctor to refer you to a Certified Driver Rehab Specialist (CDRS) who can evaluate you and help you determine if you are able to get back behind the wheel, and if so, what needs to happen to make that possible. Our CDRS will make recommendations to your physician based on their findings and prescribe you a course of action to get back on the road or to set up a long-term transportation plan. If you require special adaptive equipment to operate your vehicle, you will need to reapply for a driver’s license with the DMV and pass a driving test with your new equipment.
At Next Street, we come to you. When possible, we meet with you in the comfort of your own home and carry out an assessment of your abilities. All you need to do to prepare is to get a good night’s sleep and eat normal meals so you have the strength and energy to get through the visit, which can take up to two hours. Don’t worry about needing to memorize anything, this isn’t a test of your knowledge, it is an assessment of your motor skills and your cognitive and visual abilities.
During your appointment with our CDRS, we check your range of motion, flexibility, strength, and coordination to see if you can handle operating a vehicle. We test your vision, reflexes, and judgment skills. We also take the time to evaluate you for adaptive devices to see which equipment would work best for you.
Depending on how this first appointment goes, we will schedule you for a behind-the-wheel evaluation at a later date. This is where we will spend time determining the adaptive equipment you will need, if any, and help you understand how to operate a motor vehicle under your new circumstances.