The Arthritis Newsletter

Spring 2012

Around Town: Driving Tips


Driving a motor vehicle is a basic activity of daily living for many Canadians and can be of crucial importance for persons with arthritis.  The members of the Consumer Advisory Board remember well the excitement of obtaining their driver’s licenses as teens and also the newfound independence that followed.


For people with arthritis, functional independence and mobility can be threatened by their condition. For them, driving can present challenges most people never imagine. In fact excruciating pain, deformity, stiffness, and weakness of the joints can make driving difficult and sometimes impossible. Even simple manoeuvres such as getting in and out of the vehicle, reversing, shoulder turning and view checking, gripping the steering wheel, and shifting a standard transmission can become significant obstacles when you have arthritis.


1. Before purchasing or leasing a vehicle, assess your ergonomic needs and physical limitations in order to identify features that would make driving easier. For example:

  • Keyless entry systems and push button starters are useful if you have problems using keys. Automatic vehicle starters are also available and will warm-up the vehicle before you enter.
  • Power-assisted steering can be very helpful in easing stress on hands, arms, and shoulders.
  • Power window controls are much easier to manipulate while driving than manual window winders.
  • Adjustable steering columns can be moved forward to allow you more room to get into your vehicle; and can be moved back to a comfortable setting for driving.
  • Make sure the door height allows you enough room to comfortably get into the vehicle.   Also test your ability to shut the door.  Some doors are heavy and tough to close.  Note:  Although two-door vehicles often have wider doors, the door can sometimes be heavy and difficult to manipulate.
  • A power adjustable driver’s seat that allows you to adjust for: legroom, seat tilt/angle/height, and lumbar support can be a real boon.
  • Pedal modification, left foot accelerators, and electric hand breaks are often helpful as are extended gearshift levers.

2. Practice proper body mechanics to get in and out of a vehicle, and use proper sitting posture while driving. An occupational or physical therapist can provide guidance and can address driving-related concerns and challenges.


3. To make getting into and out of your vehicle easier, cover cloth seats with vinyl seat covers. In a pinch, use a large green garbage bag placed on the seat.  An alternative to vinyl seat covers is a beaded seat cover.  The beaded seat limits friction, enabling you to “roll” in and out of the seat. Some find beaded seats cool in the hot weather because they allow air to circulate between the seat and the driver.


4. Wear your splints to support painful joints but do not wear them if they interfere with your ability to handle the vehicle; instead, speak to your occupational therapist to see whether your splints can be modified to meet your driving needs.


5. Driving gloves can provide a better grip on the steering wheel, lessening the force of the hold required on the steering wheel for vehicle control and preventing your hands from slipping.


6. If you are unable to wear gloves or if you find gloves cumbersome, consider purchasing a leather steering wheel cover.  A leather steering wheel cover makes it easier to grip the wheel by making the wheel less slippery and by adding to the rim’s thickness.


7. Relieve the restrictive feel caused by seat belts that dig, irritate or strangle by investing in a sheepskin seatbelt cover. Do not adjust the amount of slack in the system yourself, as it may affect the safe functioning of the belt.


8. Turning the key to start the vehicle can be painful.  Two items may help:

  • Specially designed key fobs are available for people who have arthritis. These key fobs provide extra leverage and grip when turning keys.  They can be loaded to carry other keys such as house keys, mail keys, etc.
  • Enlarged key handles (key turners) which fit over your keys.

9. Install wide-angle rear and side view mirrors to enhance shoulder checks when changing lanes. Some mirrors have double sided tape on the back so they are easy to install.


10. Purchase a gas cap wrench and keep it in the vehicle.  These are designed to decrease joint stress when loosening gas caps.  For those with less compromised grip strength, a rubber jar opener can be used to twist off the gas cap.


11. Full service gas pumps are hard to find.  Go to your favourite gas company’s website; some have station locators that will allow you to search for the full-service pump nearest you.  (Example: Husky Station Locator)


12. Avoid busy times on the roads and avoid freeway driving where the need for frequent lane changing may arise


13. Planning a long trip:  Pack an emergency kit which includes an outline of your trip.  If you belong to BCAA, that organization will do a complete trip map for you in advance.  Alternatively, consider investing in a GPS system with voice guidance capacity.


14. Note:  If your medications are making you drowsy or are impairing your concentration, speak to your doctor.  He may be able to suggest non-drowsy substitute medications.


Resources for people with disabilities:

DriveSmartBC DriveSmartBC – lists qualifications for a parking permit
SPARC BC Social Planning and Research Council’s parking permit webpage – download an application or call the number listed
National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association NMEDA – dedicated to broadening the opportunities for people with disabilities to drive or be transported in vehicles modified with mobility equipment.
Disability Resource Manual MS Society of Canada: Disability Resource Manual
BCAA Winter Driving and Preparedness Tips BCAA – Learning Centre provides answers to some of your driving questions
On the road again: Driver rehabilitation Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists
Driver Rehabilitation Community Therapists
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