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Basic Driving Tips After an Amputation

Posted by Bryan Potok on

If you're a new amputee, you may be wondering if you can still drive post-amputation. The good news is: Yes, you can. People with any level of lower- or upper-limb amputation can go back to doing the things they enjoyed pre-amputation, including running and cycling, albeit modified.

 Tips on getting back to basic driving after limb loss.

Reminders before driving  

Depending on the condition of your residual limb and prosthesis, you may need to modify your car's setup, as well as consider driving an automatic transmission for safe and comfortable driving. If you own a vehicle that has a manual transmission, driving with a prosthesis is still possible. However, before you start re-learning how to drive, we highly recommend consulting your prosthetist, primary care doctor, and physical therapist, all of whom can determine if you are ready, as well as direct you in finding the appropriate equipment. They are also the best sources of advice on which car modifications are best for your situation.

As for the legalities, you will need to update your information and report your amputee life to your state's driving license office. They will tell you what the next steps are to continue to drive legally. Often, this step requires retaking your license exam and placing an additional endorsement on your license.

Driving with an upper-limb amputation  

Above- or Below-Elbow Amputation – Single Arm  

You may add a steering knob for better one-hand control. Depending on which arm has experienced an amputation, you may also need to modify your dashboard controls for easy access to the headlights, turn signals, and wipers.

Bilateral Upper Limb Amputation - Full or Partial  

A foot steering system may be the best system for you. It allows you to control steering, as well as activate the dashboard functions using just one foot.

Partial Hand Amputation  

The extent of your injury will determine how to modify your car best. You may be able to control the vehicle as you normally would or with minor modifications using your residual limb or prosthesis. However, if your grip is compromised, or you find steering the wheel and using the dashboard difficult, consult your healthcare team to find out which modifications suit you.

Driving with a lower-limb amputation  

Bilateral Lower Limb Amputation – Full or Partial    

Driving your car using special hand controls is best for your situation. There are also different setups and models available. Often, this setup requires a lever for your left arm to control braking and accelerating, as well as a steering knob for one-hand steering.

Above- or Below-Knee Amputation – Right Leg  

You can have your car specially modified and have the accelerator pedal put on the left side of the brake. Another option is to use special hand controls as recommended above for those with bilateral lower-limb amputations. 

Above- or Below-Knee Amputation – Left Leg  

In this case, you can still drive a standard automatic car using your right leg.

Just like other modified activities, learning to drive again as an amputee takes time and patience. Be patient with yourself, and you will soon regain your independence on the road. 

How do you drive your car? What modifications did you implement? Please share your experiences with the rest of the community in the comments section below.
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  • I’m an LAKA, 45 years in now. For the first several years I still drove a manual shift Jeep (no automatics then) but leaving my left foot resting on the clutch destroyed throwout bearings quickly. NJ made me get a “prosthetic device required” notation on my license when I moved here and I had to retake the driving exam. Nothing but automatics for the last 30 years though, and I concur with your other reviewer that the knee rotator (or a Ferrier Coupler) makes driving much more comfortable.

    Scott on

  • I have a left below knee amputation. I now have an automatic but successfully drove my manual transmission truck and other vehicles with clutches for many years. As long as the clutch is properly adjusted, no problem.

    Rudolf Hehn on

  • I’m a RAKA in AZ. Took an Adaptive Driving Training Course and had hand controls installed in my car. BOTH payed for by the Vocational Rehab Dept. of the state of AZ. Had to do some paperwork with the state and had an exception put on my drivers license, I enjoy driving with hand controls and like it better than the “Normal” way. Better control and faster reaction time. Much better than a Left foot accelerator by a mile.

    Jimbo on

  • I have bilateral BKAs, a right wrist disarticulation, and amputation of all distal phalanges on my left hand. I drive an automatic transmission vehicle wearing my prostheses with no modifications to the vehicle.

    Trisha Cook on

  • I am a BK right foot amputee. After checking around I found just the left foot pedal I need at PLFA (Portable Left Foot Accelerator) of Ft Wayne IN. It is a heavy metal plate, like a large floor mat, that you lay in the foot well of your car. It has a shield where your accelerator pedal is located to block accidental contact, and a connection to a left foot pedal. It is made of steel and has grippers so it won’t slide. The nice thing is that it lifts right out so your spouse or the valet can drive your vehicle without having to use the device.

    They will let you rent it to give it a try and then apply that to the purchase price if you like it. They are online at PLFA if you do a search. It made my life much easier being able to drive myself.

    Mike on

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