Staying safe and independent and continuing to drive with peripheral neuropathy
“It was dark out as I pulled into the driveway. My wife and I were discussing the news story being broadcast on the radio. As I turned toward the garage, I took my foot off the accelerator and moved toward the brake. But I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t feel where my foot was. The car kept creeping toward the garage door and I still couldn’t get my foot onto the brake. And then, BANG! The car hit the garage door and came to a stop.”
This frightening story is shared by Jack Miller who suffers from idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. The lack of feeling he describes in his feet is a common symptom of this often debilitating condition. Symptoms such as experiencing weakness or not being able to hold something, not knowing where your feet are and experiencing pain that feels as if it is stabbing or burning in your limbs can make driving difficult and even dangerous.
“The first thought I had was, ‘What if that had been a woman pushing a baby across the street in a buggy? I’m not going to drive anymore until I get hand controls on my car.’” Jack is referring to just one of many emerging technologies that broaden opportunities for people with disabilities to drive vehicles with hand controls and adaptive automotive products and devices. In recent years, technological advances have introduced automotive adaptive devices which reduce the physical effort required to control and/or operate a vehicle or alter the way in which driver control initiatives are applied to the vehicle control systems. With these tools and systems people with disabilities can once again enjoy the freedom and independence associated with being able to drive.
“The next morning I got on the computer and a brief internet search of ‘car hand controls’ led me to a number of companies and eventually to the name of an instructor.” Driver rehabilitation specialists perform comprehensive evaluations to identify the adaptive equipment most suited to a person’s needs. The use of this equipment usually requires the driver to take and pass a special training class which educates on the nuances of driving with the controls. Jack felt that it was important to get a system that had a “lock out” feature so he could disable it when others drove the car in the regular manner. “I didn’t want the possibility that they could accidentally hit the hand control and accelerate and cause an accident.”
Unfortunately the freedom Jack found does come at a price that for some may be prohibitive. The good news is that funding assistance to purchase new adaptive vehicles or to retrofit existing vehicles is becoming increasingly available. Medicaid assistance varies by state. Medicare may pay for adaptive equipment following a specialty evaluation performed by a qualified practitioner. There are additional programs through Social Security, state vocational agencies and non-profit organizations including local “Centers for Independent Living” that can provide additional information. A number of automobile makes are also stepping up to provide persons with disabilities a wide range of rebates and incentive programs. Check with your auto dealer for those details. Finally, often sales-tax exemptions on equipment purchases and other out-of-pocket expense can qualify for tax deductions as medical expenses. Contact your tax adviser or review the IRS tax code for medical equipment.
Jack is enjoying his regained freedom and confidence that with these adaptations he, his passengers and those on the roads with him are all safe: “So after 2 months of having to depend on others to take me places, I once again had the freedom that my own ‘wheels’ gave me and without the fear that my peripheral neuropathy could cause me to have a serious accident that could cause damage or death to others. It truly was a great solution.”