Q. As a reader of your columns and a mid-level quad, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the decision to drive, or not. I don’t drive and am constantly being told that I should. Sometimes I feel almost guilty about not driving. I would love to drive, but only if I felt like I was doing so at the same, or near the same, level of competence I did prior to my injury. I was driving when the accident happened that left me paralyzed. It was a no-fault accident and, from what I know, I didn’t do anything wrong. Luckily, no one else was seriously hurt.
I have met similarly injured quads who drive and it seems like they are driving at a reduced level of control. I can’t do that. I can’t imagine jeopardizing the lives of others for my own benefit. I know that sounds like an excuse/self-justification, but it is a very real feeling.
Since I am unable to transfer independently and have reduced strength and dexterity in my arms, I’m interested to know if there are controls available that will allow me to drive safely; also, cost information. Are joystick-type controls available, and affordable, for someone in my situation? Thanks for any information you can provide.
— Wavering on the shoulder of the byways
A. No need to apologize for exercising some level of caution when it comes to deciding whether or not to drive. Some reluctance would certainly be understandable in light of the type of accident that caused your paralysis, but even with that in mind, it is important to explore all avenues before making your final decision. A variety of driving systems are in place that make it possible for people with a very high level of injury to drive safely. That competence requires a systematic approach to decision-making about the type of vehicle and the mechanisms or electronics that will allow you to control it.
The very act of driving is a risky undertaking. Minimizing opportunities for accidents is the primary reason that the products developed, manufactured and serviced by mobility equipment dealers and hand control companies have evolved to their current status. Those of us who are paralyzed and who drive with hand controls today find it much easier, and safer, than did people with similar disabilities who started driving 40 years ago.
Resources at the end of this column will provide links to a previous Motorvation column and an article in NEW MOBILITY that discussed hand controls and how to find affordable vehicles. I will restrict my response in this column to considerations, potential expenses and challenges for someone deciding whether or not to drive.
First and most important, do you really need to drive? Many people, with and without disabilities, live in communities that have excellent public transportation options. Unless a need exists to take trips out of the area, it may be possible to forego vehicle ownership in favor of taking a train or bus. This may become even more feasible if rideshare and taxicab companies actually become wheelchair accessible, as many municipalities are requiring them to do at this time. The availability of someone to drive you in your or their vehicle may also be a cost-effective option.
If you want to proceed, what type of vehicle do you need, or want? Lift-equipped pickups and SUVs are now available, along with many different sizes and types of vans. Once you decide on what you want, check with a local mobility equipment dealer to see about purchasing costs. Before making that final decision, load into a similar vehicle and make sure that it fits with your mobility device and reach ranges, etc. At that point you should be able to get a price estimate from the dealer that sells what you want and need.
The dealer, in partnership with a driver rehabilitation specialist, can evaluate your driving capabilities based on your level of function. The DRS will be required if your vehicle is being subsidized, provided or financed by another entity, and sometimes in order to receive a driver’s license, depending on disability.
Other cost considerations are vehicle modifications, assistive technology and installation, tax on the sale, insurance, routine maintenance, fuel, license, parking fees and repairs if parts fail. If you are ready to take that on, know that at the end of the process you will be ready, and safe, to drive. Good luck, and happy motoring.
• Affordable Vans and Cars, www.newmobility.com/2014/11/affordable-accessible-vehicles
• Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, www.aded.net
• Motorvation-Hand Controls, www.newmobility.com/2014/06/all-about-hand-controls
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, www.nmeda.com/locate-a-dealer