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Post by Steve Guess, of Cary, NC

June 2013, 45 years as a Right-Above-Knee-Amputee

CAUTION: Driving straight drive may not be safe, or appropriate, for every above-knee amputee. Don’t drive a straight drive vehicle on public roads unless you’ve passed a DMV driving examination.

I reentered the civilian world from Walter Reed Army Hospital as a right, above-knee amputee on October 16, 1969.  Almost a year later, I needed to have my driver’s license renewed and, because “everyone knows an above-knee amputee can’t drive a stick shift”, I told the examiner that I could only drive automatic transmission, so that restriction was placed on my driver’s license.

Fast forward 25 years, one sweetheart of a wife, a 16 year old daughter and a 12 year old son. We’d bought our daughter a one-owner, red, straight stick VW Cabriolet convertible that needed some dead paint polished out. The first weekend with the car, I was left to take care of the paint while my family had other things going on. After a lengthy struggle with the polishing pad, I remembered that my father-in-law had a buffer. My in-laws lived nearby, but a little further than I cared to walk, so I stood back and talked to myself (it’s okay, no one was looking):

Okay, what are the issues for me driving straight drive . . . I can use my left foot for either the clutch or the brake, but not both at one time, and my right foot’s going to be of no help with either (except for my first car, I’ve had the gas pedal on the right, controlled by my prosthetic leg) so . . . the “Cab” has a hand brake. When I need to brake, I can use the foot brake ‘till I’m close to needing to press the clutch, I apply the clutch, shift into neutral, foot off the clutch and resume braking ‘till I come to a stop. Then I fully engage the hand brake. Starting off is the easiest – press the clutch, shift into first, give the car a little gas, ease out on the clutch to the “friction point,” and ease off on the hand brake at the same time, more gas, less clutch and I’m on my way shifting normally.

I drove over to my in-laws house, as if I knew what I was doing, to find out they didn’t have a buffer after all. I needed my license renewed later that year and I wanted to remove the automatic transmission restriction. I drove with my daughter in her Cabriolet to the license office (I had to have someone with me who could have lawfully driven me over). After passing the written and eye tests, I told the examiner that I wanted the automatic restriction removed. She asked why I had the restriction and I told her. She said we’d need to take a driving test. We did, I passed, the restriction was removed, and I was on the road again.