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Driving After a Stroke

Driving is viewed not just as a privilege, but also as a necessity. In most cases, driving is often essential to completing errands, traveling to medical appointments, vacationing or socializing with family and friends.  When a stroke occurs, it can affect the skills necessary for driving independently. 

The freedom to go where you want to go, when you want to go, is a sign of independence. Many stoke survivors relate the loss of this driving independence with becoming a burden to family and friends. Depending on where the stroke occurred and how much damage it caused it may be easy to return to driving, or it may be a long-term recovery goal.

Often survivors don’t realize the difficulties they might have driving after a stroke. Vision problems could result in drivers drifting across lane markings or having difficulty spatially relating the surrounding traffic. Physical challenges may make it difficult to turn the steering wheel or apply the brake and some survivors become easily confused and frustrated while driving.

Driver Evaluation Tests

Half of those who suffer from stroke want to resume driving, but only 1 in 10 gets any type of formal driving evaluation. There are two types of driver evaluations that are used to determine a stroke survivor’s ability to drive:

In-Office Tests: Three relatively simple tests help physicians determine the ability to get behind the wheel.

  • Road Sign Recognition: Matching road signs to particular driving situations
  • Compass: Examination of vision, attention and mental speed
  • Compass and Trail Making Test Part B: Drawing lines between letters and numbers

On-Road Assessment Tests: Professional Driver Evaluation Specialists test for vision perception, functional ability, reaction time, judgment and cognitive abilities (thinking and solving problems).

Adaptive Mobility Equipment

A majority of stroke survivors regain their driving independence through adaptive mobility equipment.

Sue Ann Acors, Spotsylvania,VA is a stroke survivor. After regaining use of her right arm and several surgeries on her right leg and foot, she regained her driving independence through the use of a left-foot accelerator installed in her RAV4.

“It was like getting my legs back,” Acors said. “I was always the one doing everything for everyone else, helping everyone else. I am not comfortable having to ask for help and always being dependent on others. I can come and go as I please now.”

Adaptive equipment is frequently used for physical problems.  A spinner knob can be attached to the steering wheel to allow controlled steering with the use of one hand.  Other adaptive equipment, such as a left-foot accelerator, may be used for the gas or brake. Training is essential with any equipment to be safe with new adaptive driving methods.

Possible Vehicle Equipment Needs – Stroke (equipment will vary widely person to person)

  • Wheelchair stowage lift and/or transfer seat
  • Lowered floor minivan or full sized van with a lift
  • Adaptive driving equipment specifically recommended for the individual physical abilities and custom fit by a certified technician

Five Easy Ways To Know You’re Road Worthy

  • You are confident walking independently or in the use of your adaptable equipment (if required)
  • You are confident in your ability to turn the steering wheel and applying the brake
  • You are confident in your visual perception
  • You are confident in matching road signs to particular driving situations
  • You are not easily frustrated or confused while driving

Driving after a stroke is possible. Through a Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialists evaluation and the appropriate adaptable equipment, many stroke survivors have regained their driving independence. Talk to your doctor or occupational therapist about the best options for you.

By: Nancy Carey, Sales Consultant, Ride-Away

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"Through a certified evaluation and adaptable equipment, many stroke survivors have regained their driving independence."

Professional Resources:

If you think you’re ready to drive again, consulting these professionals could be the next step to getting back on the road.

  • Contact your State Department of Motor Vehicles / Office of Driver Safety. Ask them what requirements apply to people who’ve had a stroke.
  • Have your driving tested by a Professional Driving Evaluation Specialist. This will provide an accurate evaluation of your driving ability.
  • Enroll in a Driver Training Program. For a fee, you may receive a driving assessment, classroom instruction and suggestions for vehicle modifications.
  • Contact a mobility equipment dealer in your area. Browse the Stroke-Network.com directory here for regional listings.
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