We tend to take driving for granted. We hop in and out of our cars, zipping through the traffic, without a second thought. But what about those who don’t or can’t drive? CAROLINE RULE, occupational therapist at Rolling Rehab, reports
Living sans car is a major challenge in South Africa, because it means relying on the largely unsafe and unreliable public transport systems. Having a mobility impairment and trying to use those systems can be a nightmare, especially for a wheelchair user.
Owning and driving a car, on the other hand, equates to independence! So one of the big questions that people ask if they have a physical disability is, “Can I drive?”
There are a number of vehicle adaptations that are commercially available, and there are a handful of companies in SA that are able to adapt a car to suit an individual’s needs. The car does, however, require two reliable limbs! Driving doesn’t take a lot of strength, and a general guide is if the person is able to transfer themselves, they probably have enough strength to drive using a standard steering wheel. Challenges arise when there are problems with coordination and spasticity, or limbs are too short to reach the controls. An individual who has difficulty controlling and coordinating their movement will find it difficult to safely control the vehicle.
The most common adaptation involves fitting hand controls to an automatic car. These enable the driver to use a hand to operate the brake and accelerator. They may choose to use a knob / spinner on the steering wheel to give them improved control, as they have one hand on the steering wheel and one on the hand control. If the driver has limited hand function, there are a variety of grips that can be fitted to the hand controls and steering spinner. The more complex the adaptations, the greater the price tag.
Our legislation regarding driving with a physical disability is simple. If you drive a vehicle with any adaptations that enable you to drive with a physical limitation, you are legally required to drive with a licence that has a Vehicle Restriction No 3. This states that you are licensed to drive a “Physically Disabled Vehicle”! A person who has had a limb amputated is allowed to drive using a prosthesis and will be issued with a Driver Restriction No 2. This states that they are allowed to drive with an artificial limb.
In order to get these Restrictions, the driver must be tested in the adapted vehicle or with the artificial limb, as the examiner needs to ensure that they have adequate control of the vehicle with whichever system they are using. For a first-time licence, the procedure is the same as for any other driver. Learner’s licence – K53 test – licence issued! If an individual had a licence before injury, they are legally obliged to hand in their licence at a Driver Licence Testing Centre along with a letter from their doctor stating they have a disability and need to drive an adapted car, and request permission for a retest. Once the permission comes through they will have to do the K53 driving test; only then will the new licence be issued. (They are not required to redo the learner’s licence.) It is the individual’s responsibility to report their disability to the licensing department and to their insurance company. Driving with the wrong licence may result in a fine, and in the event of an accident this provides the insurance company with a reason to repudiate a claim.
A final point: when insuring an adapted vehicle, be sure to include the costs of the conversions.
Caroline Rule (B.Sc. OT UCT) is an occupational therapist, specialising in driver rehabilitation and wheelchair rugby. email: firstname.lastname@example.org