July 15, 2016

11 Things I Must Do to Drive Independently

This post illustrates that recovery after a stroke is a series of challenges that go on and on.

Regaining independence in driving took more than having an OT teach me how to drive with
one hand and foot.  If you cannot do tasks 1-8, you need stand-by assistance every time you drive.

Keys.  (1) Click on Getting out keys for my house and car to see why this is harder than it sounds.

Exiting.  (2) It takes multiple strategies to get out of my house without falling.  I begin by opening the door and placing my cane on the porch so my sound hand is free to close and lock the door.  I come back inside and check my balance before I take a step backwards over a one inch high strip (see arrows on right).  This fall hazard is weather stripping that keeps air from getting under the door.
Finally, I have to hold the screen door open while I close the front door.  The photo on the right shows a shallow ledge at the bottom of the screen door.  I have to keep the heel of my hemiplegic foot from getting stuck on that ledge as I step down onto my porch.  Initially I used my butt to hold the screen door open because it is a heavy wheelchair-width door.  But I dented the screen so now I push against the storm window which I keep down all year.  People who hold the front door open are not preparing stroke survivors for the day we need to walk out the door by ourselves.

Safety. (3) The seatbelt was always twisted when I used my left hand to push it across my chest.  I learned I have to make sure the seat belt is completely straight when I pull it out.  Right handed drivers have the unfair advantage of being able to pull the strap across their chest.

Starting the car.  (4) My left arm is my sound arm so I have to lean over to see the slot for the key to the right of the steering wheel.  I pull the key out through the steering wheel (see pink wrist band) because this does not require the precise placement that inserting the key demands.

Parking.  (5) Stores may have pull-in parking, but I have to parallel park on the street where I live.
I am glad my OT set up traffic cones and let me repeatedly practice parallel parking.
(6) The spinner knob I use to control the steering wheel is made of a plastic that gets hotter than a regular steering wheel.  I cannot drive if I burn my sound hand so I am glad I found sunshades that I can put up in 10 seconds with one hand to cover the windshield.

Winter Issues.  Before I leave my house in the winter I have to (7) zip my coat and (8) don boots.

- # 9-11 are intermittent tasks that are easier for people who want to help to fit into their schedule  -

Getting Gas.  (9) It is illegal for drivers in New Jersey and Washington state to pump their own gas.  In the other 48 states, drivers must be able to handle the gas pump.  This task begins with getting out a credit card (see photo #2) and opening the gas cap on your car.  I have driven in
15 states since my stroke so I know the procedures for using the gas pump vary considerably.
I make sure I get a pump that is in the shade so sun glare will not obscure the instructions that light up.  This task requires good balance while turning repeatedly

Car Maintenance.  (10) A dirty windshield obscures my vision, especially at night.  Cleaning the gunk that accumulates on the inside of the windshield is difficult one-handed.  A reacher called the Invisible Glass Cleaner allows me to clean all the way down to the dashboard.  It costs $15 but cleans much better than the Handy EZ Windshield Wiper. 

(11) Before a mechanic works on my car he shoves the car seat back because I have short legs.  Before I drive away I grab the steering wheel with my hemiplegic hand to pull the seat forward while my sound hand presses down on the release bar.  The photo shows a gross grasp, but it is a skill I need to be independent in car maintenance.


  1. I just got my license about a month ago. The prep work--getting my keys, cane, locking and unlocking doors, etc.--is exhausting!

    1. It's going to get better and better with every repetition.

  2. Is the spinner permanently attached to your steering wheel?

    I am starting to learn to drive again. I had to put off a long time, because I have a seizure disorder that took a long time to get under control. I hadn't even thought about some of these considerations that you raised...

    1. A company that modifies cars for the disabled put the spinner knob on my car permanently.

  3. I only driving motor ,but through this blog , I understand the part about driving and to be independent in driving .
    Thank you so much for sharing this very informative post.

  4. Have just completed my driving training at local Port Macquarie Driving School. My instructor gave many tips to become a good driver and all thanks to him passed the exam in the very first attempt. Now, going to buy my dream car soon.