Driving is an important part of daily living. It allows us to stay active, be independent, and connect with other people. If you have arthritis, you know that driving can be difficult. Arthritis can make it hard to reverse, steer, turn, press the gas and brake pedals, and sit for long periods of time. It’s normal to worry about how your pain and stiffness might affect your driving – but having arthritis doesn’t mean that you have to surrender your car keys! There are many things that you can do to make your driving experience safer for you and your passengers.
Talk to your healthcare provider to figure out the problem
Arthritis doesn’t affect everyone the same way, so the first step to safer driving is figuring out how arthritis affects your driving. What part of driving is the hardest for you? What kinds of movements do you find the most challenging? It’s important to discuss these issues with your healthcare provider so that he or she can help you find a solution to the problem.
It can be tough to talk about your driving issues with your provider. You might fear that revealing your difficulties can cost you your driver’s license. But having arthritis doesn’t necessarily make you unfit to drive. A bigger issue may be that your car isn’t suitable for you.
Make modifications to your car if you can
The design of your car can be problematic if you have arthritis. The steering wheel might be hard for you to grasp. The height of the car may be too low, making it hard to get in and out of the car. You might have trouble fastening your seatbelt if you have neck and shoulder pain. Fortunately, there are devices available that can help you avoid some of these issues.
If you’re modifying a car, or buying a new one, these devices can help make driving easier and safer:
- Remote (keyless) entry and car starter
- Modified door handles
- Adjustable steering wheel
- Padded steering wheel cover
- Back or seat supports
- Head and arm rests
- Modified or extended seatbelts
- Power adjustable seats
- Mirror extensions
- Beaded seat cover
- Electric hand brake
- Left-foot accelerator
- Pedal modifications
The downside to some of these features is that they can be expensive. Your healthcare provider might be able to suggest more cost-effective ways to adapt your car. Your provider may also refer you to a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. These specialists can suggest other ways to make driving easier and more comfortable, too.
Finally, you may consider making an appointment with a driving rehabilitation specialist. Driving specialists can evaluate your specific driving problems, suggest adaptive devices, and teach you how to use the devices. You can visit the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) website to find a specialist in your area. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is another great resource for finding a specialist.
Think about changing your driving routines
Modifying your driving routines may be beneficial, as well. You might find it helpful (and less stressful) to drive at “quieter” times during the day. In one study, drivers with arthritis reported that it was easier to drive before or after rush hour. Some drivers felt more comfortable avoiding highways as well. If changing your driving schedule or route is not an option, don’t hesitate to pull over if you need a break.
Driving with arthritis can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Identifying your concerns, talking to your healthcare provider, and making some changes to your vehicle can help make driving easier and safer.
Arthritis Foundation. (2012). Driving with arthritis. http://www.arthritis.org/driving-with-arthritis.php
Johns Hopkins Health Alert. (2008). The challenge of driving with arthritis. http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/arthritis/JohnsHopkinsArthritisHealthAlert_2188-1.html
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2004). Driving when you have arthritis. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/olddrive/arthritis/index.htm