Driving with a Disability: Overcoming the Impossible

Learning how to drive is stressful for almost everyone. Imagine that you’re on a busy road and you’ve stalled your car four times already. The drivers behind you are getting impatient, despite the fact that they were once where you are now. Now imagine the same situation, but as someone who has a disability.
People who have disabilities face challenges that many couldn’t even imagine. Things that seem simple to able-bodied people can become almost impossible on a good day. One of these things that are sometimes taken for granted, is driving.
Being able to drive yourself is a luxury that countless teens dream of. They count down the days until they can take their driving test and finally have the freedom to decide where they want to go (with their parents’ permission, of course). For others, this opportunity only presents itself much later in life due to their circumstances. Regardless of when you learn how to drive, being able to get yourself from point A to B without too much assistance is a milestone to be proud of.
Fortunately, this is now a possibility for almost anyone. Thanks to vehicle modifications, specialized licences, and intensive driving lessons, people with certain disabilities can drive just as well as (or, in some cases, better than) everyone else.
People with Physical Disabilities 
Physical disabilities can include different degrees of affected mobility, stamina or dexterity. Some people might need wheelchairs, crutches or other mobility aids. In this case, a person’s driving ability depends on their degree of mobility. People with physical disabilities can make use of organisations like QASAs Driving Ambitions (that specializes in driving lessons) to help them decide on what best suits their needs. Driving Ambitions “[accommodates] many different types of disabilities, including quadriplegics, paraplegics, strokes, amputees, cerebral palsy”. Each case is dealt with individually and a representative assesses a client’s abilities in advance.
Some of the many resources available while taking driving lessons at Driving Ambitions are:
  • Space Drive systems
  • Electronic brake and acceleration systems
  • Wheelchair accessible vehicles
  • Push Button Controls
People Who Suffer from Hearing Loss
It’s a common misconception that people who are hard of hearing can’t drive. Some studies have found that they actually drive better than hearing drivers because of their heightened sense of vision. Driving is a primarily visual activity and being able to process visual cues is imperative.
Some of the vehicle modifications that can be used for people with hearing loss are:
  • Devices that indicate when emergency vehicles are nearby. These devices can often detect when other drivers use their horns.
  • Panoramic mirrors that enhance visibility.
  • Panels of different indicators that detect nearby sounds and show on screen notifications.

People with Intellectual Disabilities
Intellectual disabilities include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Down’s Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) and others. People who have intellectual disabilities are all very different and there is no hard and fast rule to determine whether they are fit to drive or not.
That being said, if they’re able to take and pass their theory and practical tests, they will be allowed to drive just like anyone else.

How do I know if I’m fit to drive?
You are fit to drive if you do not suffer from one of these diseases or disabilities (taken from Chapter 4 of the Road traffic Act):
  1. Uncontrolled epilepsy
  2. Sudden attacks of disabling giddiness or fainting due to hypertension or any other cause
  3. Any form of mental illness to such an extent that it is necessary that he or she be detained, supervised, controlled and treated as a patient in terms of the Mental Health Act, 1973 (Act No. 18 of 1973)
  4. Any condition causing muscular in-coordination
  5. Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
  6. Defective vision ascertained in accordance with a prescribed standard
  7. (vii) any other disease or physical defect which is likely to render him or her incapable of effectively driving and controlling a motor vehicle of the class to which such licence relates without endangering the safety of the public: Provided that deafness shall not of itself be deemed to be such a defect

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