Behind the wheel …. and one foot on the brake!

3 Prostheses in a carAs a bilateral amputee, I am amazed at the questions that I get from people. It might be from strangers on the street, a work colleague or sometimes my own family or friends.

There is one I get alot. It starts with a raised eyebrow, a puzzled look on their face, or just plain disbelief. The question is: “Oh, do you drive?”

Yes – amputees can drive!

It is quite okay that people ask me this question.  As I do admit, one of the questions I asked myself when I was contemplating getting my right leg amputated – “How am I going to manage driving?”

So I thought I would take the opportunity to share with you the ‘ins and outs’ of driving as an amputee!

Okay, first things first.  So I have no legs, but I do wear prostheses. I have a car, but it is not modified.

Learning to drive again using my prosthetic leg was a frightening thought, but that was only before I got in the car. Although I was thrown into the ‘deep end’, as I had to retake my license test and have a driving lesson all in one go! I was tested on a simulator first, just to check my reaction times and reflexes to make sure I can brake and accelerate as needed.

Driving is easy, but as everything in life there are always challenges. Some things you may not think about, as they are things that you do naturally and perhaps take for granted. Here they are:

  1. Going down a hill.

You have no idea how much pressure you have on the brake! You kind of ‘feel’ it as you go, but you often need to really, really, really pay attention. My initial ‘anxiety’ in driving down hills was the worst one to get over. And do you know why? In order to get to work, I had to drive down a hill every day into a car park with a gate. Halfway down the hill, you need to stop, lean out the window and swipe an access card. Leaning out the window shifts your hip movement, and in turn this moves your leg.  A leg you can’t feel as to where it is and how much pressure you have on a brake. This led to overwhelming heart racing anxiety and stress like you cannot believe. It was one I have not really conquered, and to this day I avoid paid car parks that are down hills and require you to get a ticket for this very reason! Hills themselves these days are not so bad!

Similar to leaning out a window, when you reverse you should be looking over your shoulder. If you turn your head, your hips again naturally move, and in turn so does the leg.  Just a simple rule on this one, don’t talk to me while I am reversing – I need to concentrate!

  1. Driving ‘one-legged’.

There is now a condition on my license, kind of like X marks the spot. I literally have an X marked on my license to show people that I am not allowed to drive without my prosthetic on. Like really? I am going to go head-first and drive with my hands? Somehow, I don’t think my legs could see where I was going? But, I do only drive with one prosthetic on. Singing in the car and relaxing one day while driving, my left prosthetic gradually moved along underneath the brake. In attempting to brake with my right leg it was the feeling of a brake sandwich! Not a good thing, so I just eliminate the risk of this happening again – and drive like a Pirate!

  1. Driving long distance.

My current car does not have Cruise Control. Boy, do I wish it did. Of course, this is only really beneficial if you are on a freeway and need to keep the same pressure for long periods of time.  After a while, it becomes an achy, breaky leg!

Apart from that, driving is really pretty easy. I do feel like I have mastered the art of driving. As with many people with disability, we have a knack for adapting the way we do things – just to keep our independence and our freedom.

Everything in life is somewhere else, and most of the time you get there in a car!

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