Premier Prosthetics & Orthotics Blog

Driving with a Prosthesis

For many of us, driving a car represents one of the first steps we take towards independence. This makes it that much more distressing when driving becomes one of the many everyday tasks made more challenging by the loss of a limb. Even with an advanced prosthesis, the nuances of operating a motor vehicle become a lot less subtle and much more frustrating, especially starting off. However, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to drive, and with the correct techniques and modifications, nearly any amputee can drive seamlessly on the roadway!

As always, consult with your prosthetist or your physical therapist before attempting to operate any kind of vehicle. Not only will they be able to assess if you are ready to begin driving once again but they will also predict which elements will present the greatest obstacles for you. Once you and your healthcare professional have decided the time is right, you will also need to inform your state’s DMV of your amputee status to legally drive. Depending on your situation, you may need to take your licensure exam once more and have your primary care physician affirm that you are fit to operate a vehicle.

Techniques You Can Learn

While it is recommended by the US Department of Transportation that all drivers on the road be familiar with defensive driving techniques, it becomes imperative that amputees become well-versed. Defensive driving courses are offered across the country and will prepare you to drive in sub-optimal or even dangerous conditions. Accident prevention, vehicle maintenance, and steering maneuvers are all discussed over a defensive driving course.

Modifications You Can Make to Your Car

Firstly, no, you do not have to get rid of your car. Ranging from the minor to the extensive, there are several modifications you can make to your car to be able to drive it safely and comfortably. Depending on what you drive, however, it may be advisable to trade your car in, as entering and exiting tall trucks and lowriders can be problematic. Only a healthcare professional will be able to make a final determination concerning your needs, but usually amputees who need to make modifications to their motor vehicle fall within three categories:

· Having an upper-limb amputation
· Having a right leg amputation
· Having a bilateral lower-limb amputation

Amputees sporting an upper limb prosthetic will most likely want a steering knob or other integrated steering device. There are several available on the market. If you have trouble accessing all dashboard controls, then it is possible to rewire them to an easily accessible switchboard that can be positioned where needed.

Those who have had their right leg amputated may need to have the gas pedal shifted over to be in range of the left foot. Otherwise, it is possible to use hand controls to accelerate. If your car has a manual transmission, then it may be advisable to convert it to an automatic. Not only do you not have to worry about a clutch pedal, but you also have a free hand for operating any hand controls you may have installed.
Amputees that have lost both of their lower limbs must have hand-accessible controls in order to operate their motor vehicle. There are, of course, several other devices and modifications you can get in order to make your travels safer: pedal extenders, altered seats, right-hand turn signals, emergency brake extensions, etc.

While it’s most likely going to take consideration from the DMV and your primary healthcare provider to operate a motor vehicle again, with the right modifications there’s no reason you can’t drive wherever you like. Just like the first time you learned to drive, learning a different way to drive is going to take patience. Give yourself the time to adapt, and you’re guaranteed to succeed.
At Premier Prosthetics and Orthotics, we want you to stay in tip-top shape from head to toe. When you’re a part of the PPO family, our practice goes beyond simply service— we care about you, not only as our patient but as a person. For more information on how we can help you be active and healthy this summer, contact us at 314-262-8900 or 
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