Critter Corner: Adaptive Equipment Can Increase Driver Safety

Dear Angel,

My sister loves to drive her Mini Cooper with the roof down when the weather is nice outside. She has some physical ailments that I feel make it unsafe for her to drive, though. This makes me worry when she is on the road. For instance, due to neck pain, her peripheral vision is affected. She also has plantar fasciitis which makes pushing the gas and brake pedal painful, and her vision and hearing aren’t what they used to be. It would be a shame to take the joy of driving the car that she loves so much away. Are there any modifications that you know of that she could make to help with her physical challenges when it comes to driving?

Thanks!

Matt Affacations

Dear Matt,

Many people don’t realize that when it comes to driving, some physical challenges can be compensated for by making simple modifications or using adaptive equipment for driving. Adaptive driving equipment can help bridge the gap between individual needs and standard automobiles. The American Occupational Therapy Association offers the following examples of adaptive equipment and modifications that can be made, as follows:

  • Limited range of motion: If neck turning is limited or painful, a wide-angle mirror may offer a solution.
  • Unable to use feet: If foot pedals can’t be used because you have a foot disease such as plantar fasciitis, diabetic changes have resulted in amputation, or as a result of a stroke or any type of neurological disorder impairing use of the feet, hand controls can offer a safe alternative.
  • Shoulder pain: Modification to the power steering system that reduces the effort required to turn the steering wheel can be helpful for those with painful arthritic shoulders and limited flexibility.
  • Limited flexibility: A simple adaptation, such as a ribbon attached to seatbelt, allows the driver or passenger to pull the seatbelt across the body without twisting and reaching behind the shoulder.
  • Problems transferring in and out of car: A removable grab bar that hooks onto the door latch gives the driver something to hang on to when transferring into and out of the vehicle. Also available is a replacement swing-out seat with a swivel base extends the seat beyond the car’s threshold so drivers don’t have to maneuver around the steering column to get in and out.
  • Getting lost/needing assistance: A subscription system using wireless and GPS technology, such as OnStar offers navigation services in case the driver becomes lost, emergency services assistance (including an automatic alert to first responders in the event of a crash), and other safety options. There are also of course very good free apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, that can be used for navigation.
  • Problems with peripheral vision: Add-on or replacement mirrors that are extended help broaden peripheral vision and expand the field of view to minimize head turning.
  • Hearing loss: An electronic device, such as a siren detector, detects the high-decibel sound waves of an ambulance or fire truck and alerts drivers who have a hearing impairment.
  • Tire pressure sensors: Electronic sensors can let the driver know when air pressure is low, which can help prevent a flat tire from a slow leak or loss of vehicular control due to under-inflation.
  • Back-up camera: A wireless system that projects the view from the rear of the car onto an LED screen that can be mounted on the dashboard or windshield so the driver doesn’t have to turn around to see what is behind the vehicle. This is a feature that is already in most new cars.
  • Specialized seat cushions to help with mobility: Round swivel seat cushions turn 360 degrees to help drivers and passengers rotate in and out of the vehicle. Other types of cushions can help relieve back pain.
  • Foot pedal extensions: Professionally installed pedal extenders allow better, more comfortable reach of the accelerator and brake pedals without causing the driver to position the seat dangerously close to the steering wheel.

Older drivers experiencing physical challenges can work with driver rehabilitation specialists certified through the American Occupational Therapy Association or the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. They can do an assessment and recommend individualized adaptations, as well as teach drivers how to use recommended devices.

Hope this is helpful,

Angel

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