Being an amputee may affect your driving as you will need to learn new ways of controlling your vehicle.
Who must you tell about your amputation?
It is possible to drive as an amputee but you musttell DVLA if you have had a limb amputated. DVLA may require you to have a medical examination or a driving assessment. If you are permitted to have a licence it may have some restrictions such as automatic gearbox and specialist controls, and a validity period such as 1, 2 or 3 years. You can appeal DVLA’s decision.
You must also tell your insurance company about your disability and any adaptations to your vehicle.
What type of car do you need?
Deciding whether it will be just you using the car or if other people need to use it will influence the type of adaptations you can make to it. Try to anticipate any modifications you might need in the future.
Controlling the vehicle
Depending on your situation, you may be able to continue driving an unadapted car – my grandfather had had his left leg amputated above the knee and drove a standard automatic vehicle with no modifications. If you can press the accelerator and brake with sufficient force, this is not a problem. Using pedals with a prosthetic limb is difficult as there is much less sensation.
An automatic car is recommended as, without adaptations, changing gear in a manual car requires two legs and two arms (although, it can be fairly easily achieved if the amputations are the lower limb only). Modifications can be made to the gear lever and the clutch can be activated by a button. The cost of these modifications, though, may outweigh the loss of selling the manual vehicle and purchasing an automatic one.
Driving with one arm without adaptations is more challenging and it is best to have a steering ball or spinner fitted. Power-steering is essential.
Multiple other types of adaptations exist that include extra controls for indicators, lights, wipers and washers, defogging, air conditioning, cruise control and audio equipment. Mechanical adaptations include hand-operated brake and accelerator, pedal modifications (e.g. moving the accelerator to the left of the brake) and steering wheel attachments that can interface with a prosthetic arm. Some vehicles have voice control for certain functions and there are third-party voice controllers that can be adapted even to change gear.
Secondary controls can be in the form of longer stalks, buttons on a keypad, a touch-screen controller, touchpads, headrest controls and audio-based controls. A mixture can be used, for example, a touchpad near an elbow might turn the lights on and off. Buttons are safer than touch screens as, once you have learned the button configuration, they can be easily operated without taking your eyes off the road; this does not apply with touchscreens which require you to look at them. Practice touching the correct controls while stationary, not while driving.
Many modern cars come with push-button parking brakes, some of which will apply themselves automatically if the car is put in neutral. These brakes release automatically when the vehicle is put into gear. Other new car technology that helps disabled people is heads-up display, satellite navigation, hands-free mobile phone connections, parking sensors, reversing and manoeuvring cameras (front, sides and rear) and cruise control.
Choose a car that has enough room if you use a prosthetic limb. Some vehicles have restricted space in the footwell which can make it difficult to position the limb. If you only have your left leg, a place for the right limb is important.
Getting in and out
If it’s difficult to get into and out of a low-slung car, try an SUV or a vehicle that sits higher on the road. Doors can be modified to open wider. Two-door vehicles often have longer doors than four-door vehicles, meaning a wider aperture. A lower sill is preferably for leg amputees as it makes it easier to get the leg inside the cabin. Check the location and convenience of handholds.
If you will need to use a wheelchair, you may need a vehicle which can carry it, either with you entering the vehicle in the chair using a hoist or ramp, or getting out of the chair and stowing it either within the car, on the roof or on a trailer. Think about whether you need to carry around any extra equipment, in which case a vehicle with a larger boot will be helpful.
RIDC provides a useful vehicle search function which displays the door sill height, door opening angle, headroom, legroom, seat height, boot size and other measurements for hundreds of vehicles.
Driving can irritate your stump and pain can be distracting. If you are experiencing these problems, only use pain relief that does not cause drowsiness.
Make the most use of driver assistance technology such as radar cruise control which can allow you to change your limb position to avoid discomfort.
Can you exit your vehicle in an emergency? You may want to carry a tool to smash windows from the inside in case you are trapped in the vehicle after a crash.
It can be helpful to get a few driving lessons the first time you go back to driving after an amputation. There are specialist driving instructors for disabled drivers.
Try out adaptations and modifications before committing to them on your own vehicle then take the time to familiarise yourself with them before you head out on the road.