|Armless Drivers Now Can Go It Alone
The thalidomide babies are growing up and now there is a car that can be operated by an unassisted
armless driver. Thalidomide was a chemical used in medicine in West Germany, the United Kingdom, and
Canada at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s.
Between 1959 and 1962, about 3,000 deformed babies were born in Germany to mothers who had taken
thalidomide as an anti-emetic or sedative drug during their pregnancies. About 500 deformed babies
were born in Britain, and others in Canada. Now about 1,500 young Germans who were born without
arms are reaching driving age.
The car was demonstrated here by its German inventor, Eberhard Franz of Heildelberg. Franz, armless
himself, designed the system, which is installed in a Volkswagen training car.
The driver’s door is opened by pressing a button (with the armless person’s knee) on the outside, and
closed by a pedal on the inside.
The left foot fits into a device like a roller skate which turns the car’s front wheels right or left as the foot
moves forward or backward.
Most of the other controls – brake, accelerator, emergency brake, turn signals, radio, etc. – are controlled
by a movement of the right foot or right leg.
Franz drove one of the cars around the courtyard of Sharpe Health School in Washington the other day.
And two young drivers – born without arms but not thalidomide cases – had their first practice driving
lesson. Elise Brown, their instructor, was familiarizing herself with the training procedures so she can
carry them on if the District of Columbia public schools buy one of the cars.
The first students receiving the training were Corrnelia Bell, 20, of the 2700 block of Stanton Road, NE,
and Thomas Willis, 18, of Takoma Park.
Franz said the cost of a Volkswagen with the conversion system for armless operation is about double
that of a conventional VW, which Brown said would make the package total about $8,000. The system
can be removed and the conventional steering wheel replaced in about two minutes.