Lack of Handicapped Driving Instructors Preventing Teens From Getting Behind Wheel

MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa -- When Hanah Phillips turned 14 years old in March, she hoped it'd bring a new sense of independence.

She has been wheelchair bound for more than half of her life.

“I am one step closer to driving myself instead of having to catch a ride from my mom and dad,” she laughs.

Hanah has her driver's learning permit. Her family spent around $3,500 to make her vehicle handicapped accessible but now they are having trouble finding someone to teach her how to drive.

“I wanted it to be a surprise for her when she got back from camp," says her mother, Heather. "We got her hand controls, we got her signed up for driver's ed, she was going to be able to do it but everyplace we went was a dead end."

She says the search for a handicapped instructor has been exhausting. Over the last three weeks, Phillips has called all the metro driving schools and agencies without any success.

“She can’t be the only kid in the world that`s handicapped who wants to drive,” she says.

Dave Kopp owns “Drive with Cops,” a private drivers education program in Urbandale. He says he wished his program offered handicapped accessible cars but they can’t afford to.

“Not only is it too expensive but that takes that car out of service and that car is the only car you can use for that person who is handicapped,” he says. “If you only get 12 handicapped people in a year it just doesn`t pay for itself.”

Kopp says they do make adaptations to cars that don't require permanent installment.

The instructor for the  metro’s only location who offered handicapped drivers lessons retired this Spring but was providing services on an interim basis. Officials with Unity Point Health say the Younker's Rehabilitation Center is in the process getting a new driving instructor. The Center will start offering classes in the fall.

The Phillips’ plan to enroll Hanah in a class there but hopes their struggle to find an instructor will bring awareness to the need within the handicapped community.

“Don`t give up you gotta just keep fighting for what you need,” says Hanah. “You need to have that independence and get out there.”