The physical challenges associated with being short statured must be addressed before one can operate a vehicle. Access to the pedals is a concern for many short people. The use of pedal extenders is an option for adjusting foot support on the pedals, but it is not the only, or first, step to take when driving with modifications.
A driver’s safety behind the wheel is established once they are “fit” for their vehicle of choice. Many newer vehicles offer more adjustability in the seating systems to allow for proper positioning behind the wheel. Adjusting the seat should be the first action taken for creating a safe driving situation. Seat height at the wheel should be set with the eyes 3” above the top of the wheel. For some individuals this alignment requires the use of a wedge pillow; the design of the car seat will influence posture as line of sight is created. It is important to adjust the angle of the seat to ensure an upright supported posture.
Distance from the wheel is important to consider once the height is established. Control of the wheel requires proper hand placement on the wheel. It is common to find shorter people having to pull the seat forward in order for their feet to reach the pedals. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends a person should sit no less than 10” from the steering wheel (ie: the hub of the wheel to the sternum). This is advised to limit potential injury from the air bag deployment in the event of an accident. It also provides for appropriate hand placement on the wheel and arm extension to allow for controlled steering. Adjustment of the wheel angle is important as well to ensure there is visibility of the controls on the dash.
Placement of the right foot on the pedals is our next concern when establishing proper positioning behind the wheel. With the established foundation in the driver seat, access to the pedals will present an issue. Some vehicles are equipped with adjustability so this will make it easier to accomplish since the OEM features of the vehicle are not being changed.
If the vehicle does not have adjustable pedal heights, adding pedal extenders to the OEM pedal bracket is an option. Finding the correct length of the extension is the first measurement a qualified vendor should be making. Once this is determined there should be an appropriate height platform secured on the floor for proper foot support.
If a little person is found to need positioning devices for proper alignment at the wheel it is likely they will require an assessment by a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist to assist with prescribing the necessary equipment. Depending on the leg length and angle of one’s feet to the pedals, it may be necessary to have an alternate adaptation for managing the brake and acceleration. Use of floor mounted device pedals may be needed to allow for efficient and consistent management of the vehicle.
Be mindful that the products sold on the internet may not be crash tested and approved by authorities of the state department of motor vehicles. Driving with adaptive devices often requires training with the prescribed equipment. Most states require a “restriction” on a license for those individuals driving with the assistance of adaptive devices. It is important to know what your state guidelines so that you are protected in case of an accident or if stopped for a moving violation.
If you have questions about what devices may be helpful it is best to reach out to a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist or Driver Rehab Specialist in your state. A list of providers can be found at www.aded.net (The Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists). The Next Street Driver Rehab Services is available to provide these services in CT, MA & RI. Call 860-483-7009 to set up a pedal extension fitting and lesson.