Should I be driving?

Chiri-Mulkey, Judith

“WHAT’S THIS? My foot missed the brake! I’m in the middle of a busy intersection. Oh, no! Now what?”

Yes, I did take driver education when I was in high school. For years, I’d been a safe driver-no traffic accident or speeding tickets in my 40-year driving career.

Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with MS. During the last few years, I have been hesitant to drive on freeways and in unfamiliar areas. I don’t stray far from home. My feet have very little feeling in them. There have been times when my right (braking) foot has a spasm, causing my foot to shimmy off the brake. That’s happened only a few times, but it’s frightening.

A month or two after my foot missed the break in the middle of an intersection, I missed it again and drove into some nice woman’s beautiful rose bushes. I was horrified and quickly apologized. She graciously said, “Don’t worry. My husband runs over them all the time with the golf cart!”

They say the third time is the charm. However, I didn’t feel charmed when it happened a third time in an icy parking lot at a shopping mall. Thank goodness, I didn’t hit a car or a person. Instead, my foot missed the brake while I was parking in a space adjacent to an embankment, beyond which was a very busy city street. That was finally my wake-up call. It shook me up enough to do something about my driving.

Testing My Ability

My first step was to find someone who could evaluate my driving ability. I began by calling the local Toyota dealership. They referred me to a company that specialized in van/car conversions. Betty, an occupational therapist, has her own business and specializes in driver testing and training for the physically challenged. She did a thorough evaluation of my driving skills. Betty gravely looked at me and told me I was not even on the scale when she rated my accelerator to brake reaction time. She said, “You should not be driving at all without hand controls, and you should not be driving at night.” My reaction was relief. She didn’t say that I should not be driving at all. That was my worst fear. The statement about night driving was good to know because I have not felt comfortable doing that for years.

To get hand controls on my car, Betty told me I needed a prescription for “driver evaluation and training” from my doctor. In addition, I would need seven 90-minute lessons to learn safe operation of the hand controls. Finally, I would have to drive with someone to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the hand control restriction put on my license.

I enthusiastically began my lessons twice a week. My driver training began in a vacated mall parking lot driving at the top speed of 10 mph! By that point, 10 mph seemed excessive. However, Betty assured me I would soon be driving on the interstate at much higher speeds. That happened at about lesson five.

Betty is the calmest and most patient person I have ever met. She gave me subtle suggestions to improve my driving and to help me break the bad habits I had formed. Now I comfortably drive in city and interstate traffic. I know I can safely navigate my car using those hand controls. I am again driving safely.

Copyright Springhouse Corporation Jan 2002

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