Medical Driving Evaluations

Driving After a Limb Amputation

Posted by Joan Cramer on Sep 24, 2019 7:27:17 AM
Joan Cramer
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Limb amputation can be the start of a long road to recovery, both physically and mentally. On top of the time spent healing from the surgery, adapting to physical therapy, a prosthetic limb, and the many changes to your life can be a significant challenge.

Even daily tasks such as driving can seem difficult or impossible after a limb amputation. However, the good news is that there is a wide range of options for people with disabilities and amputations that include rehab, training, and adaptive driving devices. All can help you keep your freedom and independence behind the wheel.

Amputation and Why It Happens

Amputation can happen for many different reasons. In the United States, amputation most often happens as a result of vascular diseases like diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, blood clots, or other conditions, which can cause tissue death and severe infections if not amputated. 

Limbs can also be injured due to burns, frostbite, or traumatic injuries, as well as due to cancer or tumorous growths. However, the uniting factor in these treatments is that limbs are removed to save a patient’s life. 

How Can Limb Amputation Affect My Ability to Drive?

Amputations can happen on any limb or combination of limbs, and to different degrees for each limb, which means that there are many ways that amputation can affect your life, including hindering your ability to drive. These hindrances will differ depending on your specific case, but you can adapt to a majority of them.

Some leg amputees find that they’re still able to effectively operate the gas, brakes, and clutch either with a remaining leg or a prosthetic, while others may require special adaptive devices such as hand controls.

Similarly, some arm amputees may easily transition to driving with their prosthesis, while others may need more help and adaptive devices. 

The key here is that regardless of which limbs are affected and to what degree, it can be possible to make a full return to driving. All it takes is the right combination of time, driver rehab, and adaptive devices.

What Can I Do On My Own to Prepare for Driving Again?

The first and most important part of preparing to drive again is taking care of your body. Resting, eating well, sleeping, and following the advice of your physician and physical therapist can all help you heal quickly. 

If you became an amputee as the result of a traumatic injury, make sure to address any other physical complications you may have, such as spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury.

Then, our recommendation is to work together with your doctor and physical therapist to outline your goals for driving. Based on these goals, you might do exercises to improve your strength, flexibility, coordination, and overall functionality to get you physically to the point where you can operate a vehicle again. 

Who is Responsible for Determining if I Can Continue to Drive with my Amputation?

There are no laws in Connecticut that specify that a driver must stop driving if they have an amputation. That said, it is important for you to talk to your physician and physical therapist about what you’ll need to do to return to driving, including developing an alternative transportation plan for the interim.

In some circumstances, your physician, law enforcement, or concerned family members can submit an anonymous, voluntary report to the DMV expressing their concern with your ability to drive. These submissions are protected from legal and may result in having your license temporarily revoked until you can prove that you are fit to get back behind the wheel. 

However, the overall goal is to get you back out on the road if possible, which is best done through working with a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS). The CDRS will work with you to determine your physical and mental capability on the road. 

Then, they’ll make recommendations to you, your physician, and the DMV to prescribe a course of occupational therapy to get you mobile again.

What Next Street Looks for When Assessing Amputees for Driving

At Next Street, we try to come to you at home, where we’ll guide you through an assessment of your physical and mental abilities. This process takes about two hours, and there’s no need to study or memorize anything. 

Instead, our CDRS will check your range of motion, flexibility, strength, and coordination. Then, they will check your vision, reflexes, and judgment skills. With this information in mind, they can recommend any adaptive devices you might need as well as a course of action, which might include a follow-up, behind-the-wheel evaluation. 

Possible Driving Outcomes

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For some amputees, it may be possible to make a full return to driving. For example, with a left-leg amputation, you may no longer be able to manually shift gears but can remedy this problem by driving an automatic transmission. It may also be possible to continue driving with full use of your prosthetic limbs and no adaptive devices.

Adaptive Driving Devices

The second option is to continue driving with the use of adaptive driving devices. If you’ve had fingers, a hand, or an arm amputated, our specialists might recommend a steering wheel knob to help your grip, or modifications to controls like the turn signals, steering, and lights.

Foot and leg amputees might make use of devices to help operate the gas and brakes, or other adaptive equipment like additional support in the seat, a wheelchair lift, or other accommodations.

If you have had three or four limbs amputated, you may need more intensive modifications to your vehicle, which is where working with your rehabilitation specialists comes in. They can help fine-tune these modifications for your comfort and safe operation of the vehicle and prepare you to get back on the road.  

The final part of this rehabilitation process is a required process of driver recertification. You’ll have the chance to demonstrate your driving skills with your new equipment and show that you can safely drive a motor vehicle on the road again. After this, you’ll be recertified and able to return to driving.

Restricted Driving Privileges

Another possibility during the return to driving is the possibility of driving with some restrictions. For example, if you have difficulties turning or stopping quickly, or have slower reaction times, it might still be safe for you to drive around the city, but less safe at night, on the freeway, or in inclement weather.

You can discuss all of these differences with your driving rehab specialist.

Retirement from Driving

In some cases, usually with extensive amputations, due to complications of an additional medical condition, or vehicle modifications that are too expensive, it might be unsafe to continue driving.

If this is the case, Next Street’s team will work with you to create a personalized, alternative transportation plan that works for you. The ultimate goal of this adaptive driving program is to help you maintain your freedom and mobility, even if that means finding alternatives to driving. 

Take the Next Step Today

If you or a loved one has had an amputation and would like to transition back to driving and mobility, you can reach out to us for a free consultation. It’s our goal to help you through that process as safely and thoughtfully as possible.

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Topics: driver rehab, medical driving, limb, adaptive driving

Driving is Important

We Are Here to Keep You Safe Behind the Wheel

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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