picture of car driving

Driving After a Spinal Cord Injury

For so many people, especially in America, driving is a big part of our lives. And while that idea has recently been weakened with improved public transportation and walkable neighborhoods, vehicular travel is still a daily routine for many people.

One common struggle after a spinal cord injury comes from the loss of mobility and independence – and driving is a significant part of that. Learning to deal with those emotions is a big part of recovery, and that very well could mean never driving again. However, some people are able to regain the function necessary to return behind the wheel.

In order to get a clearer picture of what driving after a spinal cord injury, we’ll look at recovery questions along with a brief look at assistive technology that is currently available. Of course, any final questions of driving should be carefully considered with your doctor and the appropriate civil authorities.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Your ability to continue driving depends on a wide range of factors – many of them unfortunately out of your control. All recovery takes time, and one of the primary factors the determine a return to the road is the amount of time since your injury. This means that is important to give yourself time to work through rehabilitation until you look to return to the road.

Beyond questions of time and rehabilitation, there are several other factors that will affect your return to driving. These factors include:

  • The presence of muscle spasms
  • Your use of narcotics to manage pain
  • Strength and range of motion
  • And the ability to use assistive technology

When it comes to determining your ability to meet these requirements, your doctor can steer you to a driving specialist. These specialists can offer evaluations, advice, and testing to help you achieve your driving goals.

Assistive Technology

When it comes to driving, assistive technology takes three forms: transferring in and out of the vehicle, operating the gas and brake, and steering. There are several options for each stage, varying by ease-of-use and expense.

For transfers to and from your vehicle, there are a few popular options. The most expensive options include custom wheelchair loading devices that allow you to automatically load the wheelchair after you have entered the vehicle. Other options include manual loading and direct access vehicles where you can load and drive from your wheelchair.

For gas and brake operation, the most common option is a handheld control. These controls can be customized for right or left handers and have varying methods of control. The best way to determine the best option for you is to either talk with a driving specialist or, even better, try out different options until you find the one that works best for you.

Steering options just as many options as transferring and gas/brake operation. Most options are some form of electronic steering that require less force to operate than a traditional steering wheel. These options are also optimized for one-handed use since the other hand is typically being used to control the gas and brake. While small, single-handed wheels are the most popular, there are also options for foot-operated steering devices if that works better for you.

Getting Behind the Wheel

Getting back behind the wheel, like every process of recovery, will take hard work and dedication. The process won’t happen overnight, but you can use that time to educate yourself, research options, work on rehabilitation, and talk to your doctor about the best course of action given your specific injury.