Driving with short stature can be a challenge, especially since cars tend to be designed for a certain average range of height. This can be a compounding issue the shorter you are, and can at times seem like an insurmountable obstacle to driving safely.
Fortunately, there are vehicle modifications to accommodate drivers of any height.
What is Short Stature?
Short stature looks different in different people. From a technical standpoint, someone is said to have short stature if their adult height is in the lowest 2.5% of the population for their age and sex in their country. In the United States, for adult men, this means standing under 5’5”. For women, a height under 5’0” would be considered short stature.
There are several causes for short stature, most of them hereditary. In the case of familial short stature, it’s possible that significantly below-average height can simply be passed down, resulting in children with short stature.
There are also genetic mutations such as achondroplasia, Turner syndrome, celiac disease, growth hormone deficiency, or many more, which are all medical conditions that can either result in slowed growth during childhood or throughout life.
Chronic health problems like malnourishment, hormone imbalances, or other illnesses have also been studied to cause short stature, but these are rare in the United States.
The Challenges of Short Stature
A person with short stature can fall into one of two categories. If your limbs are similarly scaled to your spine, just smaller than average, your condition is classified as proportionate short stature (PSS). If your limbs are out of proportion to your spine, your condition is classified as disproportionate short stature (DSS or dwarfism).
While some cases of PSS may have underlying medical issues, most are due to the height of the parents, it is unlikely that they will have other physical issues related to their size.
However, there are a number of different considerations that can affect people with DSS and their ability to drive. For example, some DSS is caused by achondroplasia, which also causes a hardening of cartilage that can make bending limbs difficult, and provide an obstacle to safe driving.
Other traits that are more common in individuals with DSS, like shorter fingers or weaker hands can also present a challenge to proper driving skills. Finally, individuals with DSS also have an increased risk for slower reaction times or cognitive deficit.
None of these challenges inherently prevents you from being able to drive a motor vehicle, but they are all considerations to take into account before driving.
Am I Too Short to Drive?
The short answer? No, though this is a common question. Notably, actor Verne Troyer, whose height was only 2’8”, dispelled the notion that undersized individuals cannot effectively operate a motor vehicle.
There are no laws that require drivers to be a certain height, only that they meet the vision, skill, and health requirements of any other driver, which can be achieved with the help of adaptive devices.
How Can Short Stature Affect My Ability to Drive?
The most pressing problems faced by short drivers are simply operating the vehicle. Reaching the pedals, seeing over the steering wheel, shifting gears, signaling — all can be more difficult with short stature, and for those with DSS the increased risks above (weaker or shorter arms and legs), this challenge is even more pronounced.
There’s also the question of safety and comfort. Seat belts are naturally calibrated for a range of heights. Airbags are designed for individuals 4’9” or taller, and can be dangerous to individuals shorter, or sitting closer.
A sun visor may not effectively block glare, a seatbelt may not adjust, a headrest may be in a dangerous position in case of an accident — all are safety features that can present a risk to your safety when driving in an unmodified motor vehicle.
Fortunately, there are options to modify your car and adjust all of these features to prepare for your time on the road.
Is There Anything I Can Do at Home to Get Ready for Driving?
The most important thing you can do is work to maintain your health. You will need to use your arms, legs, and hands frequently while driving, so exercises that improve their strength, flexibility, and dexterity are all helpful.
Also, make sure that if you know you have vision problems that you have an up-to-date prescription for your corrective lenses.
Other than that, your next step is to work with a professional to tailor your vehicle and plan to you.
What Does Next Street Look for When Assessing People of Short Stature for Driving?
Our Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, or CDRSs, are occupational therapists trained to help people with a wide variety of obstacles to their driving abilities, including short stature.
To start, our CDRS will meet with you for an evaluation to help assess your vision, reflexes, strength, flexibility, and current abilities to control a vehicle.
Based on this initial assessment, they’ll be able to recommend any adaptive devices that might make it easier, safer, and more comfortable for you on the road, as well as help you lay out a plan to resume driving.
Possible Driving Outcomes
If you can safely reach all the controls in the car and see adequately, you may be safe to get back on the road with little more than simply raising your seat up, and our CDRSs will simply give you a friendly seal of approval.
Adaptive Driving Devices
For many people with short stature, some form of adaptive equipment will be needed. This can include steering wheel extenders, pedal extenders, raised platforms to rest your feet on, raised seats, and even hand controls for the gas and brakes.
It will take some time to learn how to use this equipment, and most adaptive devices require a retest at the DMV, but with these new devices, you should be comfortable and safe back out on the road.
Driving with Restrictions
For those with limited limb mobility, cognitive deficits, or other issues that make operating a vehicle even with adaptive equipment a challenge, there may be some situations that are safe to drive, while others are not.
For example, if you struggle to react quickly, our team might recommend you refrain from driving on the freeway, or at night and in bad weather.
Inability to Drive
In some rare situations with additional physical or cognitive complications, it may not be possible to safely operate a vehicle. If this is the case, our team can help you build a custom transportation plan, making use of ride services, taxis, public transport, and the help of loved ones.
Take the Next Step
Our goal at Next Street is to help you find a safe, comfortable way to be mobile and independent. If you’re a driver with short stature, you can reach out to us for a free consultation to learn more.