How can people living with arthritis continue to drive safely and comfortably? Well preparation is key, and it’s important because access to a vehicle and being able to carry on driving helps sufferers stay mobile, independent, and social.
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. People of all ages, sexes and races can suffer from arthritis, and it is thought that around 10 million people in the UK are currently living with arthritis or a similar condition that affects the joints and mobility. The pain and fatigue caused by arthritis often results in a substantial reduction in a person's quality of life, so it is important to take advantage of the support and advice that's available and to do what you can to help make life easier.
Access to a car of your own gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want, and the thought that driving may be something that you won't be able to do in the future can understandably be very worrying. These recommendations can help you get ready to stay mobile if you want to carry on driving with arthritis.
Driving with arthritis - especially if your condition is severe - can feel like learning to drive all over again. Driving Mobility centres offer driving assessments designed to review your driving and evaluate your skills and ability. They may recommend one or more adaptations to help you continue to drive safely or suggest something that will allow you to access the vehicle more comfortably.
People with arthritis should ideally avoid vehicles with a manual gearbox and opt for automatic cars with power-assisted steering. If the steering on the vehicle still feels too heavy, specialist adaptation firms are often able to make it lighter, making it much easier to turn the wheel. Other helpful features to consider include a push-button ignition, electrically operated adjustable seats and an adjustable steering wheel, all of which can be found as standard on a wide range of modern cars. Features like a rear parking camera (or a 360-degree camera) can also help if you struggle to turn your neck, and heated seats and a heated steering wheel will help to relieve pain in your joints and muscles by keeping them warm.
Always adjust your seat and the mirrors before setting off so you don't have to excessively contort or strain yourself while on the road. Many newer vehicles now come with blind spot detectors that help by alerting you if another vehicle is close by.
The Blue Badge Scheme is one of the most useful services available to UK drivers and passengers with mobility issues. It means you can park closer to your destination by giving you an exemption from many parking restrictions and access to specific disabled parking spaces.
The scheme, administered through local councils, is easy to apply for and helps millions of people lead independent lives.
If your condition makes it difficult or painful to get in and out or to drive your vehicle, there is a great range of vehicle adaptations out there that can help. Some of these are simple and inexpensive driving aids that can be ordered online, while others are more specialist adaptations that are available from specialist adaptation suppliers and installers.
Steering Wheel Ball For Drivers With Arthritis
Car Pedal Extensions For Drivers With Arthritis
Electronic Accelerator For Drivers With Arthritis
Adding a steering wheel ball (or spinner knob) to the steering wheel will allow you to steer the vehicle with one hand and operate all the other vehicle controls with the other. They’re a popular and inexpensive adaptation that offers 360-degree steering control for drivers with reduced grip strength.
If you’d prefer to carry on driving using your feet, then pedal extensions – which attach onto the existing pedals - can be fitted to bring the pedals closer to the driver. They allow the driver to sit much further back in their seat, which can make driving safer and more comfortable.
People with severe arthritis in their feet or legs may find that using hand controls is an easier way to drive. With these attachments fitted, you’ll be able to control everything in the car, including the accelerator and brake pedals, by operating a push / pull device located next to the steering wheel.
If you find push/pull hand controls too hard to operate, an electronic accelerator could be an ideal alternative.
Grippy materials like rubber or silicone can be a lifesaver if your arthritis primarily affects your hands. Slipping one of these over your steering wheel means there’ll be less pressure on your hands, giving you improved comfort and helping to prevent dangerous slips. You can even get heated steering wheel covers if you want to keep your hands warm.
Extended seat runners can help if you find bending your legs when getting into and out of a vehicle difficult. The seat runners are extended and re-positioned further back inside the car, which gives the driver or a passenger in the front seat more room to comfortably swing their legs in and out of vehicle.
A transfer plate can help when getting in to, or out of the driver or passenger seat. They can be used with almost any vehicle, and there’s a wide choice of models available including manually operated versions that fold away and powered versions that can be electronically moved up and down to the desired height of the user.
A lumbar support pillow can really help people with lower back or hip pain. This cushion sits right at your lower back and supports your posture and spinal alignment when sat in the vehicle.
These can help you to get in and out of your vehicle easier. The non-slip ‘handle’ securely hooks directly into the door latch of the vehicle, allowing you to get a steady grip and the extra leverage to lift yourself into and out of the car seat.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a power operated tailgate (boot) a boot strap could help. It’s a simple and low-cost adaptation that helps with closing the boot of your vehicle when it is too high to reach comfortably. The strap is fixed to the inside of the tailgate so that you can easily pull the boot down to a height that makes it easier to close.
If you think that your arthritis is starting to affect your ability to drive, you must let the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) know. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they'll stop you from driving, but it's a legal obligation to tell the DVLA about certain conditions.
You should also let your insurance company know. By law they can't charge you any more because of your condition, but if you have an accident and you haven't told them the policy may not cover you.
Driving requires strength, flexibility, and a certain level of fitness. Regular exercise can help you keep that level, particularly if you often drive for long periods of time. Stretching before driving can also help to prevent muscle cramps, tiredness and joint pain.
Certain medications prescribed to treat arthritis can sometimes cause drowsiness, vertigo, or other side effects that may impair your driving ability. Because of mental fog and fatigue from the disease, your reaction time and reflexes may also be slower than they used to be. Check your medication and if in doubt contact your GP for advice.
Finding the right car really is an individual decision. Everyone with arthritis experiences their condition in a different way, so be as thorough as you can be and take plenty of test drives until you find a vehicle that’s right for you, both now and in the future.
If you need a Mobility Scooter to get around remember to check the boot space, and explore the hoists that can lift even the heaviest of scooters into the boot of your vehicle, or perhaps consider a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) for maximum practicality.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to use some of these driving tips and continue to get to wherever you’re going safely and comfortably.