Gain access to appropiate resources for managing inflammatory arthritis
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Having access to a car of your own enables you to stay mobile and independent. Driving can not only open doors for your career, as your commute may be easier to manage, but it can also empower you to remain social, too.
To ensure you can continue to drive safely and comfortably, it’s important to take a few key factors into consideration.
In this section, we’ll explore some of the preparations you can take, and adaptations you can make to your vehicle, to make sure you stay safe on the road.
How to find the right car
Before you begin your search, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few key questions. When considering these questions, try to think not just about your current needs, but also about any circumstances that may change in the future.
1) How will you get in and out of the car?
Would wider or higher doors make getting in and out of the car easier?
Will you require specialist equipment to help you access your car?
Considering questions such as these should help to narrow down your search list.the list of appropriate models.
2) What features will help you feel to make sure you’ll be comfortable in the driving seat?
3) Will you need specialist controls to help you stay safe on the road?
Some models may come with required controls built in, but if not, you may be able to find a model that you can adapt with additional controls. allows you to make the necessary adaptations.
4) Will you need to carry any specialist equipment with you?
If so, will you need extra space in the car?
If you use a wheelchair, what accommodations will help you to get in and out of the car more easily?
Will you be loading and unloading your wheelchair from the boot, or will you be searching for a vehicle that allows you to travel sitting in your wheelchair?
If you take all of the above into account, this should help you in your search for the ideal car.
Here’s a list of our top tips for narrowing down your search:
1) Go automatic
An automatic vehicle is easier and less physically demanding to drive than one with a manual gearbox, as you won’t need to use the clutch to regularly shift between gears.
2) Look for a car with power-assisted steering
Most modern cars come with power-assisted steering built in. If the steering still feels too heavy, a specialist converter may be able to make the steering lighter for you.
3) Think about the ignition
If your RA limits movement or causes pain in your hands, wrists and arms, turning the key to start the ignition in your car can be difficult, even impossible on days where your joints are particularly stiff.
A push-button ignition can take the stress out of starting up your car. A lot of models with push-button starts also have a keyless entry system, which will unlock the car automatically for you when you’re in range and allow you to start up the vehicle as long as you have the key with you.
How to anticipate the challenges
With the right preparation, some of the challenges of driving with arthritis can be reduced.
Here are some of the everyday challenges that come with driving, and some helpful tips for overcoming them.
1) Getting in and out of the car
If your joints are stiff and painful, a car with wider doors might allow you to get in and out easier as you won’t have to bend quite as much. On the other hand, if you have weakness or tenderness in your joints, smaller doors will be easier for you to manage.
Cars with three doors generally have wider doorways than cars with five doors, so this is a key thing to keep in mind when searching for your next vehicle.
You should also consider the height of the vehicle and make sure the seats aren’t too high or too low for you to comfortably access.
Some other accessibility features to look out for include:
Doors that open and close smoothly
Doorways with no sills, or with low, narrow sills
Conveniently placed handles that will provide extra support for getting in and out of the car
Electrically-operated seats that allow you to easily adjust your positioning
The best way to get into your car is to sit in the seat first and then turn to bring your legs in. Do this in reverse to get out of the car easily.
If this is difficult for you, there are a couple of things you can do to make it a bit easier:
Try looping a strong length of fabric around your foot so that you can pull it over the doorsill by hand. You could also hook a walking stick underneath your foot and pull your legs in that way.
If swivelling your body in the seat is an issue, you could place a plastic bag on your seat to make this easier. There are also specialist swivelling cushions available. Whichever method you opt for, you’ll need to make sure you can remove it from your seat before you set off.
To help you with reaching and securing your seat belt, a lot of modern cars have an adjustable seat belt fixing. You can also find accessories that make the seat belt easier to reach or adjust so that it sits more comfortably.
2) Using your mirrors
You need to make sure you can use your wing mirrors and rear view mirror easily to look out for other road users while driving.
A panoramic mirror can replace your standard rear view mirror to help with increasing your visibility while driving. This can be particularly helpful if you have pain and stiffness in your neck.
You can also combat blind spots in your car by installing additional mirrors to your doors.
3) Braking and accelerating
If you’re comfortable using one or both feet, you may be able to drive an unadapted automatic car.
Whilst the brake and accelerator is usually controlled with your right foot, if this isn’t possible, one option could be to have an accelerator fitted on the left side of the brake pedal (where the clutch would sit in a manual vehicle) so that the vehicle can be operated with your left foot instead. These are usually made removable so that other people can drive your car if necessary.
If you don’t have use of your legs and feet, ask for advice from your doctor about whether hand controls are likely to make your arthritis worse. If you drive an automatic car, you can then approach a specialist converter to have hand controls installed. They might also install a footrest and a guard to keep you comfortable and stop your feet from interfering with the foot pedals.
4) Turning the steering wheel
When stiffness and tenderness is a particular problem in your hands and wrists, gripping the steering wheel can be painful.
If you find the steering in your car to be too heavy, speak to a specialist mechanic about making it lighter.
Another way to make steering easier is by covering the wheel with a foam tape or a thick steering wheel cover.
If you need to steer with one hand, you can have a steering ball or spinner fitted, which will free up your other hand for using the hand controls. Spinners are available in different shapes and sizes, so you should be able to find one that’s easy to grip and comfortable to use.
How to prepare for your journey to and from work
Now that you’ve sorted getting into your car with ease and made adjustments to ensure you can sit and drive comfortably, it’s time to consider some of the other challenges that may be presented in your journey to work.
When preparing for your journey to work, think about:
How long will you be driving?
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time before you need to set off to make sure you can get yourself comfortable in the driving seat without having to rush.
You should also calculate your journey time before you set off and allow extra time for comfort breaks in case you need to stop at any point to move around and loosen up stiff joints.
Where will you park your car?
Is there assigned parking at your place of work, or is it first come, first served? If so, it’s a good plan to try and get to work a little bit early to make sure you can get a parking spot that’s close by.
If the car park has disabled bays, consider applying for a Blue Badge so that you can make use of them.
If you have to park your car off-site, where will it be? Be sure to consider the length of the walk from your car to your work building when making your journey preparations, and make sure the walk is achievable without putting yourself under too much strain.
Wherever you park, be sure to give yourself enough space to easily access your car. If you’ll need to fully open your door to get in and out comfortably, try to park in a space that won’t restrict you. If you’ll be unloading any specialist equipment or a wheelchair, try to avoid parking in a space that restricts access to your boot.