When she developed peripheral neuropathy five years ago it looked like this condition, that hinders movement and flexibility in her ankles and feet, would mean Christine’s driving days were over.
When two rare medical conditions combined to threaten Christine Simmonds’ ability to drive, she contacted Herts Ability for help. Christine, from Leighton Buzzard, has lived with the genetic muscle disease myotonia congenita since childhood. The disease causes the muscles to contract and release at the wrong times.
But Christine didn’t hang up her car keys and her independence without a fight: “I informed the DVLA of my situation and they advised me to contact Herts Ability and arrange for a driving assessment,'” she explained. “I visited their Welwyn Garden City HQ last October for my initial assessment and was booked in by receptionist, David Sims. David was very pleasant and helpful and soon my assessor Mark Thackeray and Occupational Therapist Jane Baker asked me some questions and gave me some strength exercises and then conducted an eye test.”
“Christine has recently been driving a manual transmission Vauxhall Crossland X without any vehicle adaptations,” Mark explained. “However it quickly became apparent that Christine could not operate the foot pedals safely.”
Nervous or not Christine, passed her test with flying colours and received favourable comments from her assessors too. “I recently celebrated my 70th birthday and passing this test was the best present I could get!”
Mark then gave Christine the opportunity to drive an adapted automatic transmission Vauxhall Mokka fitted with push/pull hand controls, mounted on the right hand side of the steering column. “The hand control lever was fitted with an integral switch for operating the indicator signals and Christine steered left handed using a steering ball, mounted at the ten o’clock position on the steering wheel,” Mark continued. “A pedal guard was also fitted to prevent her feet from accidentally interfering with the foot controls.”
Thankfully Christine quickly got used to the adaptations: “Although it is a totally different way of driving and it was awkward at first, Mark and Jane were polite, helpful and full of encouragement. I was very nervous at first but they certainly did their utmost to put me at ease.”
At the end of the assessment, Mark suggested that Christine should take some tuition in an adapted car to familiarise herself with the controls and then return to Herts Ability for a further assessment. She did this in February and visited HA’s outreach centre at The Disability Resource Centre in Dunstable, which was closer to her home.
“This time I was greeted by driving assessor James Hinkins and Occupational Therapist Sophie Ndikum, the other assessor,” Christine said. “James explained the procedure for the assessment and all the different instructions that I would be given. Sophie sat in the back of car making notes. Once again James and Sophie were pleasant and helpful and explained everything in detail to put me at ease because it was a ‘test’ and I was nervous.”
Christine is currently awaiting for DVLA to issue her new driving licence. In the meantime she is currently looking at automatic cars with adaptations that are suitable. “I can’t wait to jump into my own car and visit friends and family who live further afield. It is so important to me and will make such a difference.”