The ability to drive provides us with a level of independence that we may take for granted as it is so ingrained in our daily lives – we drive for work and to run errands, to get our children where they need to be, and for pleasure to meet with friends or go on vacation. If you suffer a spinal cord injury (or “SCI”), a significant question during the recovery period will be: can I drive after a spinal cord injury? The good news is that driving after a spinal cord injury is indeed possible for many people.
Consider how a spinal cord injury affects the body
The severity and level of injury in the spine will affect physical function and sensation. Movement skills, reaction time, and hand function are important aspects of the ability to drive safely. As such, paralysis (i.e. partial or total loss of use of the limbs, also known as quadriplegia, tetraplegia, or paraplegia) is a significant factor in whether you can drive after a spinal cord injury. Those who suffer a catastrophic injury as a result of a major car accident such as a complete injury above the C4 level, will not have the functional ability to drive, whereas those who sustain an incomplete injury or injury at a lower level within the spine may retain hand and arm function, for example, that permits them to drive with retraining and/or vehicle modifications.
Consider vehicle adaptations and modifications
Many people with spinal cord injuries are able to drive with special modifications to their vehicle, which allows them to carry on with life as normally as possible. For example, there are a variety of hand controls available to control the gas and brake for all levels of spinal cord injuries. Steering adaptations are available for those who have difficulty gripping the wheel or more limited arm movement. Vehicles can also be adapted to allow for transfers in and out, or to allow the driver to sit in a wheelchair while driving.
Consider rehabilitation, retraining, and retesting
To get back to driving after a spinal cord injury, the first step is often to talk to your doctor and rehabilitation team to ensure you are capable and confident in your driving. An occupational therapist can assess your physical function and make recommendations for vehicle modifications. There are certified driver rehabilitation specialists and driving rehabilitation programs so that you can practice and learn how to drive a modified vehicle. A Driver’s Medical Examination or driving evaluation may be necessary to ensure that you have the physical functions and cognitive skills to drive safely.
Consider the expense of driving after a spinal cord injury
Vehicle adaptations, rehabilitation programs, and occupational therapists can be very expensive. If you suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident caused by another driver, contact Simpson, Thomas & Associates at (604) 689-8888 to request a free consultation. We have considerable experience handling ICBC claims involving spinal cord injuries, including complex personal injury claims involving quadriplegia and paraplegia. Our highly skilled Vancouver spinal cord injury lawyers will assist you in getting the help you need to return to driving, including securing funding for rehabilitation and vehicle modification expenses.