SCI driving – introduction
I acquired a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) in 2009. During my time in ICU, I received a letter from the Department for Transport. They cancelled my driving licence, and it was upsetting to receive a message like this. I was mentally low and struggling to come to terms with my life and what the future holds. It just added to the list of things that I would never do again, and I added SCI driving to it. I was wrong. During rehabilitation, I was taught how to transfer into a car, and how to drive.
Initially, I would use a long slide board and place it between my manual wheelchair and the driver’s car seat. My bottom would go in first, followed by my legs and then the slide board is removed. The seat would be pulled off, backrest placed down, and wheels were taken off. All of these items would be placed in the passenger seat, and then its time to drive off, using hand controls.
I encountered a few problems 1) 10 minutes to load and 10 minutes to unload 2) items were a tight squeeze to get between me and the steering wheel 3) only my manual chair could be taken. There would be days of extreme heat or rain, which would affect when I transfer, and how I feel.
My black beast
After research and talking to many companies that convert vehicles, I made a decision to order a Volkswagen Transporter via Solitaire Automotive. It would be modified with the following
- an underfloor lifter – hides under the VW and manages to lift my powered chair and me ( We are 225kg and the max is 300kg)
- docking station – a pin is placed under the powered chair and locks into the docking station 1) safety in the case of an accident 2) enables the wheelchair to be rotated
- 3-way driver’s seat – 1) rotation – allows the wheelchair to get closer to the driver’s seat 2) height – for transfers and driving 3) location – moves from the transfer to driving locations
- hand controls – 1) spinner knob – held with the left hand for steering 2) the drip – pushing forward activates the brake, and rotating it provides acceleration
- handbrake – the manual handbrake was removed and replaced with a dashboard switch, as it interfered with transfers
- 4 passenger windows – I was too tall to fit into a VW Multivan, and ok for a VW transporter, which doesn’t come with passenger windows
- rear passenger bench seat – for transporting family
Brazier Mobility providing the modifications. I’ve now driven it for the past 6 years and love the freedom and independence. I can drive anywhere, whenever I choose, and without assistance. However, it comes at a cost, as the modifications were over $40,000, and maintenance is costly. It seems that everything related to disability is expensive.
On my keyring is a remote control with 4 buttons – 1) open 2) close 3) down 4) up. After pressing the open button, the door slides open, and the lifter comes out.
I reverse onto the lifter and press the up button. The tailgate closes, and we slowly move up, then slowly backwards while ducking my head. The headrest squeezes through the rubber seal, and I guide the wheelchair pin into the docking station.
Click – I am locked in, and I rotate closer towards the driver’s seat, as I rotate the close button lowers the lifter, puts it away and closes the door. I am ready to get into the driver’s seat.
getting into the driver’s seat
After rotation my chair closer to the driver’s seat, I remove my armrest and rotate the driver’s seat until it touches my wheelchair. I lower the height of the driver’s seat, move my bottom and legs slightly, and place my right first onto the driver’s seat and perform a little pivot transfer.
I lift the height of the driver’s seat at the same time as rotating it. I move forward and lower the height as I approach the driving position. The lifting and lowering are mainly to prevent my feet from being crushed as we move forward.
After arriving in the driving position, I place a restraining belt around my trunk, as I have no trunk control. The standard seat belt is fastened
SCI driving – driving
Driving with hand controls is easy. I am the safest driver on the road 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions. If you are thinking about SCI driving, I encourage all people with SCI to get lessons and get back on the road.
At other times I catch taxis and the service is great. Please read about my bad taxi ride.