Charcot-Marie-Tooth UK
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Do you drive a car with modified controls? Any advice welcome, please

I have been driving an ordinary manual car for many years. The CMT diagnosis came a few months ago, (yes I have told the DVLA) and I was advised by my occupational therapist to have a driving assessment. I have recently started to have slight problems with my L foot missing the centre of the clutch pedal and once or twice it has slightly encroached on the brake.

The assessment was a gruelling experience lasting nearly 4 hours. I was tried on the simulated car with standard(?) hand controls, but found them too stiff to operate with my rather weak hands. So I was recommended to use my L foot for the brake, and R foot for the accelerator ( driving slowly round the grounds,in a real automatic, I tended to keep trying to "change gear" with the brake at first).I shall certainly need some lessons before buying my next car.

The upshot is that I must get a fully automatic car (what does that mean? Is there a partly automatic sort? how can you tell?), with "very light" power assisted steering, a "lightened" brake (my L leg is slightly stronger than the right, but still cannot produce the officially required amount of pressure on the brake) and only a small gap between the side of the car and the accelerator so my R foot can't "get lost" and miss the pedal. Oh, and it must not be too high to get into easily.

If I can't learn to use this unorthodox technique ( I flashed my windscreen wipers at an oncoming car in my lane the other day - reverting to my previous car's layout), there is apparently an "expensive" electronic alternative type of hand controls: L hand to steer , R hand for everything else. The firm that modifies cars can't show me any examples of controls, as they only get things in for specific jobs. So I am completely in the dark. What is it like ? How expensive?

And if I graduate to more rigid AFOs (current elastic and velcro ones are inadequate), will it be very much harder to use foot pedals?

It is absolutely vital that I keep driving , as I live alone in a rural area of Scotland and have nobody at all to drive me.

All this is in addition to not having the fogggiest idea what sort of car to get to start with. I really wanted a very small 4WD (it can get a bit snowy here), but maybe a hatchback would do. I am a complete ignoramus about cars and there are zillions to choose from......

And I shall get no financial help whatsoever, as I have not been in receipt of DLA before a certain age, or now either, come to that.

8 Replies

I don't know very much about cars bu my brother drive sa VW Tiguan which I believe has a 4x4 element and is fully automatic. A semi automatic allows you to change gea via paddles on the steering wheel but although my husband had a car with these on we never used them. The est advice I an give is to just go out and try as many cars as you can and see which ones suit you. My sister had hand controls but I don't know how much they were.


Hello Amanita......

My last 3 No. cars (9 years) were all Hyundai Coupes with, (FULL AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION GEARBOXES): They were all 1st class vehicles, until Hyundai in their wisdom, discontinued this particular model ?

I currently require to wear "toe-to-knee" ridged plastic AFO's, inside my normal shoes, (one size larger) to support my 'wasted' muscles in my lower limbs: I experience no difficulties whatsoever in operating the pedals in my current MINI COOPER, with it's (MANUAL TRANSMISSION GEARBOX) !

However, the standard full (AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION GEARBOX's) fitted in today's cars are superb, and very smooth in their operation, and they will certainly assist you with your current difficulties in operating the cars foot pedals:

You do not require to use your LEFT foot with an AUTOMATIC GEARBOX, as you will not have a CLUTCH pedal to operate, you simply rest your LEFT FOOT on the foot rest plate fitted into the vehicles LEFT side FOOT WELL l: Make sure the model that you select has this feature ! Many of today's latest higher specification models have HAND OPERATED, FACTORY FITTED PADDLES mounted on the steering wheel: Some also have an ASSISTED HILL-START, and others have no manual handbrake, but have an AUTOMATIC HANDBRAKE fitted! A car fitted with AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION GEARBOX, will normally cost £750/£1000 more than a car with a MANUAL TRANSMISSION GEARBOX

The accelerator is easily pushed, and lightweight to operate: The car also should have should have POWER STEERING fitted as standard, and the steering wheel be light to turn whilst driving: The normal BRAKE pedal on an automatic transmission car is twice as WIDE as a manual gearbox car, Check the WIDTH of the FOOT BRAKE before buying your selected car: You can also buy different types of attachments to EXTEND or WIDEN any cars foot pedals:

My advice is to carefully compile a "CHECK-LIST" of all the items that concern you, and visit your nearest MOTABILITY DEALER (whether you you receive DLA benefit, or not) for the particular manufacturer that you select: These guys/gals are well trained, courteous and fully aware of a disabled persons special needs :

John (Glasgow)

Ps Let us know how you get on ?



I was going to say all of much the same kind of things as the everyone else. I drive a Renault Scenic automatic, which is superb! It has both full and semi automatic modes - as I've never driven a manual, I dont use the semi mode, ie changing gears, coz I don't know how!

The only other thing I would add, is as you are so uncertain and unsure of what it's actually like to drive an automatic, why not book a driving lesson with a local company who use autos, then you can get a feel for what it feels like, get some tips on best practice, and generally get to feel a bit more confident with the whole thing. You'll probably only need one hour, so it shouldn't break the bank!

Then, as others have said, go and get some expert advice from either the local motability dealer, or any garage nearby who sell as large range of second hand cars, and get a feel for what is comfy to sit it, has the pedals in the right places and all that jazz! Take some test drives and have a play.... Then, and only then, can you start thinking about what to buy, and that will be down to your budget, of course. But try to buy the newest you can afford,mbecause they will have the lightest pedals etc.

As far as the rigidity of the afos are concerned, as John said, it shouldn't make any difference. I had my right ankle fused last year, so it's totally rigid, just like an afo would be, and it genuinely makes no difference to driving... I apply pressure to the pedals from the knee, rather than the foot, but so automatically, I never even notice.

Autos are fab to drive, so easy you'll wonder why you didn't have one before ... The only major downside is they do tend to drink petrol rather more thirstily than manuals, but you don't go far, do you, so it shouldn't be a problem. I'm also rather heavy footed (I like driving fast!) and that doesn't help!

Do let us know how you get on, and if you want a chat, I'm in the office tomorrow from 9am to 2pm.



Hi Aminita, every one is right on their comments about an automatic. I have just exchanged my manual car for an automatic and it is fab. I boughtt a Toyota Yaris. I would advise test driving as many vehicles as you can though. Plus it is good advice is to have one lesson to boost your confidence from driving a manual to auto. Karen mentioned they drink more petrol, you may also find a different cost in road tax and insurance, but taking all this into consideration it is a good move. Happy Motoring.


Thank you for all your thoughtful and encouraging comments.

The thing that is bothering me is that the driving assessor was adamant that I should learn to drive an automatic using my R foot for the accelerator, which is normal, but my L foot for the brake, which is anything but. This is because I have a not-too-accurate sense of exactly where my feet are, and she insusted it would be best if each had one specific job, and kept very near its respective pedal when not actually on it. I am worried that this will be very hard to learn, especially when faced with the unexpected - when you instinctively revert to old habits.

Yes I must most certainly get at least two lessons. The big problem is that only ONE instructor in a huge area has a dual control automatic (yes, I have really checked), and consequently he has a very long waiting list of nearly 2 months. (Apparently if you live in Inverness there is no instuctor with an automatic at all !)

Meanwhile I have listed the criteria advised by the driving assessor, plus a number of my own, and have started at one end of the "Motor Mile" in the nearest town, and intend to visit all the car-emporia(except Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar) in turn. It is a daunting task for such a car- ignoramus to tackle alone, but I hope at least to be able to compile a shortlist (two possibles from 7 dealers so far). A friend in England might then look them up on the "Which?" website for me. Some dealers do have a sign saying Motability, but so far they don't seem either more or less helpful than the others.

If I fail to master the L foot on the brake technique, the assessor said I'd need some kind of electronic hand controls, which I believe is very expensive.


Now I can tell you what happened.

I had my first lesson in an automatic, and it was soon clear that I would be able to get my head around the L-foot-on-the-brake technique - to my immense relief. The instructor confirmed that a significant no. of people who need to, never do master it.

Meanwhile a friend had sent me details of a very useful website detailing the FOUR main types of automatic transmission - and which are the two suitable ones ; it is automaticandmobilityinstruc... an automatic car.html

This ruled out a couple of cars which were otherwise attractive. Meanwhile all the 4WDs I saw were a bit too enormous and rather high to climb up into. By then I had still to look at the Vs and Ws in the Motor Mile, finally reaching Vauxhall, where I met an exceedingly good salesman. The Astra appeared to meet all the assessor's stipulations, and had a roomy space behind the rear seats - which I can fold flat by myself (many makes needed a degree of strength ; some seats don't fold properly flat ), and a stout shelf which fits behind them to create a huge flat area so you don't have to heave cargo in and out over a parapet. Five doors are a luxury, and good for access too. There was only a manual version in the showroom, but the salesman located a 2 year old ex- Motability specimen with v. low mileage........

While it was being delivered to Scotland and having preparatory work done on it (including parking sensors*), I had another encouraging driving lesson.

It arrived here, sleek, black and unfeasibly shiny, looking very grand indeed - and then the snow started to fall.

My third driving lesson,a week later, was in my Astra, and the instructor felt it would be perfectly safe to let me loose in it. (Whew ! relief ! )

He will have reported back to the Assessor, as requested. I have now informed the DVLA that I need to drive an automatic, and sent them a copy of the assessment - as they asked for it. No doubt they will modify my licence - which I shall presumably then have to show to the insurance company..

* I am always amazed - and somewhat alarmed - by the way pedestrians see your reversing light in car parks, and decide that is the very best moment to amble erratically behind you.


Somehow the website I quoted , and painstakingly typed in and carefully checked became electronically garbled ( the first part of it turned magenta, it underlined itself, and all the middle section vanished) the moment I clicked on "submit answer" - and of course when I click on the version shown , it doesn't work. I don't know how to overcome this frustrating problem - and I really did want to share this useful information. Any ideas, please?


Six months later, and I am happily driving my Vauxhall Astra, with no problems whatever (apart from my own incompetence at parking anything bigger than a Micra in tightish spots). It has a nice big brake pedal, so my left foot can easily find it, without having to be permanently hovering just over it, and the accelerator is nice and near the side wall of the car, so my right foot can't get lost in the gap. And it is comfy for long drives.


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