Assisting people with disabilities with their mobility needs.

In this two part article we will look at Multiple Sclerosis.

If you are readwheelchairing this you may have questions or concerns about how Multiple Sclerosis (MS) might affect you, or someone you know and their ability to drive now or in the future.

This first part of a two part series will look at the danger signs and considerations to consider when driving is a part of your life, but you have to mix that with the medical condition, Multiple Sclerosis.  We will also look at 7 tips to consider for increasing safety when driving with the symptoms of MS.

Part two, which will come out in the following weeks will look deeper into what alternatives there are when the 7 tips outlined in part one of this blog no longer maintain safety on the road.

Part one – MS and Driving

As occupational therapists, we understand that driving can add so much meaning to your life. It is one of the most important life roles to help us maintain independence.

Driving however can be one of the most complex activities in our daily lives. Although symptoms associated with MS can affect the skills necessary for safe driving, adaptive automobile equipment is available to help you keep driving safely.

The severity of MS symptoms can vary considerably. At Williams Occupational Therapy (OT) we have seen it all.

  • We have assisted clients who want to prepare for the future after a new diagnosis. In this case we introduce clients to hand controls and other pieces of assistive equipment.
  • We have also seen the other side of the driving spectrum and assessed clients who are using a pick up stick to lift there leg into the car, using their left hand to steer, and using their right hand to lift their trouser leg to lift their foot between the brake and accelerator.
  • We have also assisted clients with community mobility options when driving just wasn’t an option any longer despite the use of assistive technology. This has incorporated vehicle access options and wheelchair entry vehicles.

At Williams OT we understand that most people with MS experience attacks or relapses. These might last from a couple of hours to several weeks. During exacerbations driving may be difficult or unsafe, but may return to normal as the exacerbation ends and symptoms improve. However, people with progressive forms of MS may experience a slow worsening of abilities that can permanently affect driving. So how do you deal with these challenges?

What are the warning signs

Your ability to drive safely may be affected if you experience any of the following:

  • Difficulty getting into or out of a car
  • Muscle weakness or stiffness/spasms/cramps or pain, particularly in the arms or right foot
  • Loss of sensation in the feet or hands
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures or loss of consciousness
  • Blurred vision, blind spots, double vision, loss of color vision
  • Cognitive problems such as short-term memory loss; disorientation while driving such as forgetting your destination, getting confused about where you are or missing exits; poor concentration; inability to multitask; and confusion about how to turn the car on or off
  • Mood changes: depression and/or problems controlling anger
  • Other signs include:
    • Near misses or accidents
    • Other people refusing to be a passenger of yours

7 Tips for increasing safety when driving (with or without an assessment or use of aids)

Since the symptoms of MS often are not only relapsing or remitting, but also can fluctuate from day to day and during a single day, your ability to drive may also fluctuate. The following tips may be helpful:

  1. Don’t drive when you are having a bad day or relapse. Function may decline as the day progresses and you feel that the only way home is to drive. Fatigue is a significant issue and alternatives transport options are recommended.
  2. Keep your trips short if fatigue is an issue; avoid driving when you know your fatigue is severe
  3. Plan to drive in the first hours of the day when fatigue levels are typically at their lowest.
  4. Avoid driving during periods of heavy traffic. Not only does heavy traffic take more concentration, but frequent braking and clutch work can rapidly impact on the function of the lower limbs.
  5. Avoid driving in bad weather, including hot weather. Make sure the air-conditioned is re-gassed regularly and in good working condition. Try to sit in your car with the air-conditioning on before attempting to drive to lower your core temperature.
  6. Avoid distractions such as eating, arguing with passengers or using a mobile phone.
  7. Consider a driving assessment to look at safer alternatives for the longer term.

Look out for Part Two

Look out for our next blog post where we will look at what alternatives there are when safety is an issue using the standard driving controls.

Need to know more now?

Williams Occupational Therapy driver assessment and rehab service can help clients with MS stay safe on the road. If this sounds like you and you want to know how an occupational therapy assessment or equipment could help you, please ring email us at or call us on 08 8125 5316.

If you would like to stay in touch and keep up to date with current trends or changes to driving standards, please sign up for our e-newsletter where you will be able to keep up to date with current information. By signing up to our e-newsletter, you will receive a free referral pathway information pack and an invitation to a free online QandA session. Here you can ask questions about your situation and find out more information specific to your needs. You can subscribe below.

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