Getting My Driver's License With Ankylosing Spondylitis
Last updated: June 2022
I got my license this month! After 7 years of constantly failing tests, I finally did it. Driving is not for everyone, some struggle with it more than others. I am one of those people. I am generally an anxious person, which makes driving hard sometimes, but AS makes driving much more difficult.
I live in Ontario and here we have a graduated driver's licensing system. This consists of passing 3 tests before getting your full license. There is the G1, which is a written test. Then there is the G2, which allows you to drive independently but still recognizes you as a novice driver needing more practice on the road. Finally, there is the full G license that lets you drive without any restrictions and no longer sees you as a novice.
I began this whole process when I was 16 years old, around the time my symptoms of AS started. As I tried to get through these tests, I struggled a lot because my condition was worsening and I did not have a diagnosis or any treatment then.
Painful positions and movements
One way AS makes driving difficult is that I cannot drive for more than 10-20 minutes at a time. It is painful to sit in one spot for so long and car seats are not very supportive. Turning my neck to check blindspots is also difficult and painful due to reduced mobility and causes my neck and shoulder muscles to tense up for the duration of the drive. Driving is also very tiring due to the fatigue and constant pain I am in, which is exacerbated by driving.
Some things I do to try and make driving adaptable for me are to rest beforehand if I know I am going to drive, use a seat cushion, rely more on blindspot mirrors, use an ice pack on my neck and shoulders as soon as I get back home, use a heating pad on my lower back and legs, and rest afterwards.
The testing difficulty
While I know how to drive and maneuver around safely, driving tests look for specific things that are done a certain way. The tests are usually half an hour long but driving to the test centre and waiting once you arrive for the examiner can range from 30 minutes to 4 hours. Initially driving and then waiting around for this long, in varying degrees of pain, without heating pads or meds, and the looming anxiety of doing a test was a lot for me.
By the time the test begins, I'd be exhausted and very symptomatic causing me to make little mistakes that would be fine on the road day-to-day but make me fail the test. Overall, I have failed 5 driving tests.
This time around I was able to pass the final test for many reasons. The biggest factor is that my condition has been more manageable recently. Treatments are helping control my AS more than before which has made me more functional and productive in all aspects of my life, including driving. So, driving was a bit less painful and I was able to practice more before the test.
Additionally, due to COVID-19 and the backlog of driving tests people need to do, they have opened temporary test centres and created a modified version of the test. This version is shorter and does not repeat things from the last test. Having a test center open near my house and the test being 15 minutes long instead of 20-30 minutes helped me pass my test.
I still prefer to not drive
Despite getting my license, I do not drive often and don't anticipate doing so anytime soon. While driving is more doable now, it makes my symptoms worse. So unless it is absolutely necessary, I will continue opting for virtual options or getting rides or using accessible transportation to get around.
If you drive, what modifications or changes make driving with AS doable for you?
Have you ever had to take a leave of absence from work due to your symptoms?
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