Here we outline the key things for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to consider when choosing or adapting a car.
A car is one of the most expensive items you are likely to buy, so choose one that is going to suit you for some years.
We give details of how MS might affect your driving, what you can do and legal and insurance requirements you need to know about.
More detailed information on choosing, adapting and using a car can be found in the following Rica guides. We note below which parts are of specific interest to someone who will be driving with MS.
This guide covers a range of things to think about if you have a disability. It includes details of features that may help you and ways of adapting a car to suit you. However, you may be able to continue driving an unadapted car for some time, particularly if it has automatic transmission and power steering. Bear in mind that many helpful features, such as height-adjustable seats, are now available on a wider range of models. Also, the less a car has to be modified to suit your needs, the higher its resale value.
If you lose sensation, strength or control from your arms or legs, consider the adaptations available to make motoring easier. The earlier you convert to new controls, the more confidently you are likely to drive. See this guide for in-depth information on types of adaptations and how to get them. In particular, you should bear in mind these factors:
- if the strength or control of your legs is poor, you can have more brake assistance added to reduce the effort required
- you can have foot rests fitted and shaped to suit you
- if your right leg is affected, you can install a flip-up left-foot accelerator
- accelerator rings need less effort than a push-pull lever - and you can steer with both hands on the wheel
- different types of hand controls can be fitted - these can be powered and the force needed adjusted
- you may want to have a pedal guard fitted to stop your foot interfering with the pedals
Sometimes, just the right technique is all you need. The guide also covers helpful equipment and details of various lifting systems if you need more help:
- hoists that lift and lower you on to a car seat
- lifting seats that swing out and into the car, lowering and locking into a position to suit you
A run-down of equipment to help you stow or carry a wheelchair:
- hoists that lift a manual or powered chair into a vehicle
- rooftop hoists that lift a manual chair up and on to the roof of a car
- racks that carry a wheelchair on the back of a car
- trailers and ramps
Driving with multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is unpredictable and can affect people in many ways. Some symptoms are common but people will experience different symptoms. In addition, MS symptoms themselves can vary from being mild to severe, and they may be temporary or permanent. Some common MS symptoms that may affect driving include the following:
- sensory (touch) problems such as numbness or tingling hands and feet
- visual problems such as blurred or double vision, or a temporary loss of sight caused by optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)
- fatigue - an overwhelming sense of tiredness making physical or mental activity difficult
- loss of muscle strength and dexterity
- problems with walking, balance and coordination
- muscle stiffness and spasms - tightening or rigidity in particular muscle groups (known as spasticity)
- cognitive problems (difficulty with memory and thinking)
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will consider a person's fitness to drive by assessing a number of different factors. For example, the law sets standards of vision that drivers must meet, like the ability to read a standard-size number plate (with glasses or lenses if necessary) from 20.5 metres (67 feet) or 20 metres (65 feet) where narrower characters are used.
A small loss of muscle control will not necessarily affect your ability to drive a car but people are required to show sufficient dexterity and coordination to manage car controls (steering, brake, accelerator and other controls). There is a wide range of adaptations available that can help with some of these.
Memory and concentration, spatial awareness of the position of things and clear mental processing of information are also important to drivers. Assessment at a Mobility Centre can help identify and address some of these problems.
You must tell the DVLA and your insurance company when you are diagnosed with MS and whenever your ability to drive changes significantly. You must also tell the insurance company of any car adaptations you have.
For further information, go to the DVLA website or get 'What you need to know about driving licences' (D100) from a post office. For more information on MS, contact the MS Society.
Remember that many people with MS carry on driving confidently and safely for many years.
Advice from drivers with MS
- Try out a car and any adaptations on one of your worst days, not when you're feeling well.
- Be prepared to compromise but don't omit your 'must have' features.
- Get advice from an independent Mobility Centre.
Last updated: Summer 2014
Main page: Motoring with particular disabilities