Purchasing a car with MS in mind

This week Rosie Farrell shares tips and a checklist when buying a car.

For many people with MS, their car acts as a link to the outside world. So when I suddenly found myself unable to drive, unable to get to work or engage in my usual everyday activities, I became trapped in my own home.

We started to look at getting my car adapted and what supports were available. I was told about the Primary Medical Certificate (scheme which allows you to avail of tax relief on adaptations and purchasing a new or used car) but warned it could be hard to get as it didn’t take into account the fluctuating nature of MS and as a result was often at the discretion of the assessing medical officer.

The bad news at the moment for new applicants is that the HSE is currently not awarding Primary Medical Certs (PMC) until further notice after a Supreme Court decision in June 2020 created uncertainty about the current legal basis for the assessments. The Government is currently reviewing this decision. For those of us living with disabilities and already in further isolation because of Covid, the hope is people won’t be left for months - or worse, years - without the resumption or replacement of the scheme.

The Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport grant were two other schemes that helped people with disabilities get out and about, but in 2013 the Government closed these to new applicants, promising that the details of replacement schemes would soon be announced. Seven years on and there is still no further news.

Public transport isn't a viable option for many people with disabilities either. Aside from inaccessibility, there is a poor transport network nationwide and even within cities, getting to your destination can often involve several buses. For someone with MS fatigue, the energy required makes it an impossible option. This is why being able to drive and have your own independence is so vital. All we can do is wait and hope the Disabled Drivers Scheme returns soon, but in the meantime here’s some tips I hope will help you now or in the future if you’re thinking of buying a new car, with or without adaptations.

Driving assessment and PMC

  • When I applied for the PMC I was instructed by my consultant to go for a driving assessment with the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) as a letter from them stating the adaptations you need will strengthen your case. The more supporting documents you can supply, the better.
  • Despite the temporary suspension of the scheme, I would still urge people to get a driving assessment with the IWA. Their help is invaluable and they can tell you about the extensive range of adaptations available. They also provide driving lessons in an adapted vehicle, as does the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI).
  • If you require extensive adaptations, shop around for a second-hand car. Shop Mobility Ireland and Parfit, two adaptation companies, often sell second-hand adapted vehicles. Contact the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disabled Drivers Association for further information and a list of car adaptation companies in your area.

Checklist before buying a car

If you have MS and you’re buying a new car it’s worth planning for the future even if your ability to drive isn’t limited. There are so many add-ons available from car manufacturers that are amazing tools for people with disabilities.

Some of these include:

  • Cruise control - a system that can be switched on to maintain a selected constant speed without the use of the accelerator.
  • Adaptive cruise control - similar to the above, however it automatically adjusts the vehicle speed to maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead, slowing down and increasing speed as required. It is a great tool as it allows you to rest your legs on long journeys.
  • Park assist - a system which will take over from the driver to automatically park the car for you.
  • Reverse camera or parking sensors - A reversing camera is another option that is very helpful or, alternatively, parking sensors that will emit a beeping noise when you’re too close to a car or pedestrian when reversing.
  • Collision avoidance system - This depends on the car manufacturer but it’s a system that, similar to above, provides an audible warning to the driver if a collision is imminent or, in some car models, will automatically take over the steering and breaking of the car to avoid or reduce the severity of a collision.

These are just some of the add-ons you can look for or request when buying a car. Make sure to visit different car dealerships and chat to them about your MS and what add-ons could help. While some options are costly, you could find exactly what you’re looking for in a second-hand car so it’s worth shopping around.

For further information, contact your local MS Ireland area office or see the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disabled Drivers Association.