Medical Driving Evaluations

Driving with a Short Stature

Posted by Joan Cramer on Aug 29, 2019 8:24:30 AM
Joan Cramer
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You have finally reached the age where you can get a driver’s license, but you are concerned you may not be able to reach the pedals. Like other people with short stature, you struggle to use vehicles designed for taller drivers. It may be a challenge to see over the steering wheel, reach the controls, or even get in and out of the vehicle. But this need not prevent you from getting into the driver’s seat. Regardless of your height or proportions, there are many ways your vehicle can be modified to accommodate you so you can experience the freedom of the open road.

What is short stature?

Short stature looks different in different people. From a medical standpoint, someone is said to have short stature if their 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.

There are several causes for short stature. The two most common causes are heredity (the child has short parents) and constitutional growth delay (growth slows down at some point during childhood, but often resumes later). Genetic mutations such as achondroplasia also account for many instances of short stature. Slow stature may also be caused by chronic health problems such as malnourishment, hormone imbalances, or other illnesses, but this is rare in the United States.

A person with short stature can fall into one of two categories. If their body parts all have the proper size in relation to their spine, but the individual is just smaller, they are said to have proportionate short stature (PSS). If their limbs are out of proportion to their trunk, they have 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 they will have other physical issues related to their size.

People with DSS, who are often referred to as little people, can fall into two categories. They can either have a normal sized trunk but shorter limbs, or they may have a shorter trunk but limbs that, while still small, are disproportionately large. Little people are commonly around four feet tall, but heights as short as two feet do rarely occur. Some DSS is caused by achondroplasia, which also causes hardening of cartilage and increased intracranial pressure (that is, fluid pressure in the skull around the brain). The hardened cartilage can make bending limbs difficult. They may also have short fingers and difficulty gripping things. Very rarely, the increased pressure on their brains may cause some form of cognitive deficit.

Am I too short to drive?

Many people with short stature wonder if they are too short to drive. Actor Verne Troyer, whose height was only 2’8”, dispelled this notion by not only driving a normal sized car on a regular basis but by one whipping a Ford Mustang around a technical driving course at high speeds. From a physical standpoint, no one is too short to drive, they may just need some adaptive devices to help them.

There are no laws that require drivers to be a certain height, though you still must meet the vision and health requirements of any other driver.   

How can short stature affect my ability to drive?

The two most obvious problems faced by short drivers are reaching the pedals and seeing over the steering wheel. Some may also find that getting in and out of the vehicle can be a challenge. For those with DSS, there may be additional difficulties. Their fingers may struggle to grip the wheel or the gear shift. Shorter arms may also make reaching the controls or seatbelts a challenge. For these reasons, an automatic transmission would be easier to handle than a manual one.

For those whose short stature is caused by achondroplasia, limited limb mobility can mean that operating the pedal, even with extenders, can be difficult. This can be solved with the use of hand controls. For those with shorter arms, however, this creates a new problem of having to operate the throttle with one hand and trying to control the steering wheel with the other, when both hands are needed for steering.

Having short stature can also pose a safety risk if your vehicle has airbags. Many drivers with short stature not only sit lower, they sit closer to the steering wheel in order to reach it and see over it. If the airbag goes off when they are in that position, it can seriously injure them. Many guidelines suggest that a person be at least 4’9” if they are seated in the front of a vehicle with an airbag. If you are under that height, check with a dealership about getting your airbag disabled.

Another issue is that a short person’s height doesn’t line up with various safety and comfort features within the car. The sun visor may not come down low enough to shield their eyes from the sun during early morning or late evening hours. Seat belts may cross their neck or face and need to be adjusted. If the seat’s headrest doesn’t adjust, it may force their head forward at an uncomfortable angle, or its bulge may be in a position that could cause serious neck injury in a car accident.

Is there anything I can do at home to get ready for driving?

Work to maintain your health. You will need to use your arms, legs, and hands a lot while driving, so if you are able to do exercises to improve their strength, flexibility, and dexterity, this would be helpful. Also, make sure that if you know you have vision problems that you have an up-to-date prescription for your corrective lenses.

What does Next Street look for when assessing people of short stature for driving?

When you meet with our Certified Driver Rehab Specialist, we will do a number of things to evaluate you. We will check your vision and reflexes. We will also check your strength and flexibility, and measure how well you can reach the controls of a vehicle. If we determine it is necessary, we will write you a prescription for any adaptive devices you may need and teach you how to use them.

Possible driving outcomes

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If you can safely reach all the controls and see adequately, you may be good to go with little more than simply raising your seat up.

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, or booster seats. Sometimes, it may also include hand controls for the gas and brakes. It will take some time to learn how to use this equipment, but once we’ve helped you with that, you will be good to hit 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, you may be restricted from driving in certain locations like freeways or from driving at night or in inclement weather.

Inability to drive

In some rare situations involving additional physical or cognitive complications besides those typical of short stature, you may not be able to safely operate a vehicle. If this is the case, we will work with you to set up a transportation plan, which could include ride services like Uber, Lyft, and Metro Taxi, as well as riding with loved ones or using public transit.

No matter what we determine, we will work with you to decide on the best course of action to keep your life mobile and independent. 




Topics: Safe driving, driver rehab, driving evaluations, medical driving, short stature

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Our Driver Rehabilitation program works with patients whose change in health may affect their ability to safely drive. We have a team of Certified Driving Rehab Specialists that will work with patients on evaluating your driving abilities. We also have a team of professional instructors to help you gain or regain the skills you need to drive. We created this blog to talk about the various diagnoses we experience and how they may affect your experience behind the wheel. 

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