We don’t often think about the physical challenges of driving, but they’re actually a very important part of staying safe behind the wheel.
Every time you get in the car, you have to maintain proper posture in the driver’s seat over long periods of time. This means controlling the steering wheel with enough strength to maneuver your car and having enough mobility to make 90-degree turns or more as needed.
For people who are living with some physical limitation, or otherwise recovering from an accident, these physical feats can be a challenge standing in the way of safely and confidently driving.
However, thanks to modern adaptive driving equipment, it’s very possible to overcome these challenges.
In this article, we’ll be exploring low-effort steering and steering assistance. We’ll talk about which challenges might require steering assistance, how it works, how it can be adjusted to you, and how you can use these tools to drive safely.
Limited Strength and Mobility | Challenges Requiring Low Effort Steering Systems
The central problems that require low-effort steering are:
Hand or arm weakness for turning the wheel
And posture problems that may reduce your range of motion
For some people, this can simply happen as you get older. For others, this is a common side effect of progressive neuromuscular diseases like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury complications, ALS, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.
The safest and most comfortable way to drive a car is while sitting up straight with proper posture. All of these challenges may make it difficult or painful to turn the steering wheel without moving your entire body.
How Steering Assistance Helps
This is where steering assistance makes a big difference. Through the use of driver-specific modifications (which we’ll go into in the next section), steering assistance can have the following benefits:
It allows for easier turning of the wheel if doing so is painful or difficult
Makes it easier to keep your torso and head aligned correctly
Allows for more control of the car, especially for situations like parking, turning, and lane changes
And decreases the joint strain and muscle power required by driving, which helps keep you comfortable and alert in the driver’s seat
In the next section, we’ll go over some of the different ways that steering assistance can fit your unique situation.
Customizing to Your Unique Situation
Low-effort steering and steering assistance come in many forms, which is why it’s helpful to work with an expert while selecting which piece of equipment is right for you.
For example, in older vehicles, steering assistance can simply take the form of a spinner knob or steering column extensions. However, for drivers needing more significant support with steering, electronic driving assistance or other driving aids may be required.
Electronic driving assistance may be as simple as calibrating the resistance of your power steering system to make it easier to manipulate. Many vendors offer this service or can help replace your wheel.
In other cases, especially when dealing with spinal and dystrophy challenges, the steering wheel can be rotated at a right angle. This horizontal steering helps you maintain a supported and comfortable posture on the road.
How Do I Get Steering Assistance?
For some vendors, it’s possible to adjust steering assistance directly, but any adaptive driving devices need to be prescribed by Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. In all cases, we recommend that if you’re considering steering assistance, you see a CDRS.
Apart from the legal requirement, a CDRS will be able to assess your exact needs behind the wheel, which is important when considering which type of steering assistance you may need. A CDRS can also help you understand the new challenges steering assistance can provide.
For example, steering assistance can sometimes require extra movement of the wheel, which can be a challenge if you have a limited range of motion. Steering assistance can also eliminate the automatic return of the wheel following a turn, which can take a while to get used to.
Finally, steering assistance often requires increased focus and sustained touch to manage the wheel play when driving long straight distances.
Fortunately, though, your Certified Driver Rehabilitation specialist will be able to guide you every step of the way as you assess your needs, learn to drive with the new equipment, and comfortable on the road.
Then, finally, you’ll have to work with your CDRS and the DMV to get recertified to drive.
Taking the Next Step | The Next Street Approach
Here at The Next Street Driver Rehab, we always start with a comprehensive clinical assessment, so that we can understand you and your exact physical, cognitive, and visual challenges.
Then, after helping you select the right equipment for you and your unique skill set, our team can help you start training in familiar areas around the home.
Once you’re comfortable and confident with your ability to drive, you’re almost ready to get back out on the road. For the last step, our instructors will help you make the transition to getting officially certified with your new equipment.
This process can include guiding you through DMV criteria and tests for adaptive equipment use and assisting you in preparation for any tests you may have to pass.
No matter what your unique challenges, we’re dedicated to helping you safely understand your abilities, and helping choose the right way forward to staying independent and mobile for the years to come!
If you’d like to learn more or schedule an initial free consultation, you can reach out to us at our Consultation Homepage or at 860-483-7009.