Arthritis is a common condition causing pain and inflammation in a joint that affects around 10 million people of all ages in the UK, a number that inevitably this includes people who drive.
As driving is so important for many people’s independence and mobility, as well as socially, the ability to have support to drive as comfortably as possible while managing symptoms is vital.
- There are many types of arthritis which can cause significant pain and discomfort for drivers.
- Driving is an important part way for people to maintain independence and mobility.
- Support and advice can help people affected by arthritis continue to drive.
When choosing a car, features such as automatic transmission, power steering, electrically operated seats, heated seats, an adjustable, heated steering wheel, push-button ignition, reversing cameras and blind spot detectors can help make driving significantly more comfortable. Many of these features are becoming increasingly standard on modern vehicles or can often be available as options.
In addition, there are many aids and adaptations available to make the driving process easier and more comfortable, enabling people to continue to drive and be independent.
When getting into the vehicle, removable grab handles or support straps can help with car entry and exit as they attach to the door handle to help increase leverage and grip.
Alternatively, a transfer plate can really help with getting in and out as it can be fitted to the side of the vehicles seat to provide a smooth, level surface for sideways transfer between wheelchair and vehicle seat at which point it can simply be folded away. They can be manually or electronically operated.
Extended seat runners provide extra leg space when swivelling in and out of the vehicle as they allow the seat, still on its original runners, to be repositioned around 8 inches further back inside the car to create more room for legs to move in the footwell.
Once inside the car, an inexpensive steering wheel ball added to the steering wheel enables one-handed steering. This helps with reduced grip strength and frees up the other hand for the other controls, while a rubber or silicone steering wheel cover reduces the pressure on hands as well as the grip strength required to steer.
Pedal extensions (pedal extenders) bolt on to the existing pedals of either a manual or automatic vehicle to extend their length between 1 and 4 inches. They’re usually adjustable and bring the pedals closer to the driver, improving visibility and comfort.
The usual foot controls (brake and accelerator) can be adapted so that the car can be driven using push pull levers operated by hand or even electronically if a person has discomfort in their legs or feet.
Other aids for use when sitting inside the vehicle include a neck support for the headrest, a lumbar support pillow to help with hip or lower back pain, a gadget to help reaching the seat belt and mirror extensions to minimise the need to move the head and neck and cover blind spots.
On the outside of the car, a boot strap is fixed at a convenient point on the inside of the tailgate and helps with closing boot when it is too high to reach, or when the extended arm and shoulder movement required is painful. Pulling the boot strap brings the boot down to a convenient height for closing it more comfortably.
Drivers are only required to inform the DVLA about arthritis if it is affecting their ability to drive, or if they use special controls for driving. Applying for the Blue Badge Scheme means that holders can have exemption from many parking restrictions, have access to specific parking spaces, and park closer to their destination.
Obviously, everyone’s needs are different and researching a short list of potential vehicles will help to make the final decision. Often available through the Motability Scheme, there is also the option of a wheelchair accessible vehicle or WAV in which a vehicle is specifically adapted to the user’s needs and converted for them by a quality WAV provider.