Should You Be Allowed To Drive If You Have No Hands?

August 27, 2015 — 4 Comments

Yesterday I had several people connect me with this story:

Essentially, the Wisconsin DMV refused to give Mr. Speckman a Wisconsin driver’s license without first having to take a driving test (because he doesn’t have hands), even though he’s had a valid license from the state of California for over 40 years. I’ve seen many reactions, ranging in intensity. The most common has been, “What in the world?? How could they?? That’s discriminatory!”

That was my first thought, too.

I’m conflicted, though.

On one hand, I totally get Mr. Speckman’s frustration. He’s been driving for over 40 years (accident free!) and has a valid California license. What right do they have to make him take a driving test to prove to them that he can do it safely?

Mr. Speckman driving (credit:

Mr. Speckman driving (credit:

On the other hand (if you have one), that’s pretty much their job, right? To make sure that the people they’re licensing are capable drivers.

While there’s a lot of room for improvement here (which I’ll get into), I think there needs to be some understanding, too. I don’t envy the position of the person/people at the DMV. Driving is a rather hands-on activity and if you’ve never seen a person with one hand or no hands drive before, I can understand why you’d be extra careful. Your job is to make sure (to the extent that it’s within your control) that you’re licensing drivers who can traverse the roads of your state safely. Now, we all know that having two hands doesn’t guarantee a safe driver, but the point is, if you don’t have any hands and I don’t know you personally and have never seen you drive, I can understand the hesitancy.

In fact, ever since I turned sixteen, the back of my driver’s license has looked like this:

20150827_105217-1I’m not allowed to drive a car with a manual transmission. I’m not sure we ever even spoke about it; I think they just put the limitation on there. And I’ve honestly never cared. Could I drive a stick? Absolutely. Could I challenge the restriction? I’m sure I could. Will I? Nope.

This situation actually makes me wonder what the process is for administering a driving test as people get older? If someone’s in their 80s or 90s, do they automatically have them take the test? It seems like we don’t get as upset about that or call into question discrimination in these cases, and I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t, I’m just making an observation.

At its core, the problem here is the assumption, right? I get that that’s upsetting and, in Mr. Speckman’s case, surprising. I believe we also have to remember the practical aspect of licensing and ensuring the safety of other drivers, though.

That said…

The inconsistency and subjectivity of the process must be improved. My guess is that, while it was surprising and somewhat offensive, if the DMV folks had addressed the situation consistently and respectfully, Mr. Speckman would have understood. We (people with physical differences) aren’t entitled to special treatment, nor should we expect it. We do, however, deserve and expect respect and to be treated with dignity, just like anybody else.

If Mr. Speckman had two hands (or even one) and a valid California license, would they have administered a driving test? That assumption is perhaps where the greatest challenge lies.

Ultimately, it makes me sad that my home state looks terrible in this situation. It’s embarrassing. This could be really good, though. Without even intending to, Mr. Speckman may have sparked statewide process improvement when it comes to licensing drivers with physical differences in the state of Wisconsin. The challenge, then, is to turn this ugliness into something beautiful.

And to move, as our state motto says…Forward.

What are your thoughts about the situation? Have you ever experienced something similar? How did you react?


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I'm a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend...all kinds of things, actually.

4 responses to Should You Be Allowed To Drive If You Have No Hands?

  1. I have had the same issue in the past. I have cerebral palsy right hemiplegic and to get my license in California I had to go through an additional training on how to use a left footed gas pedal and steering knob. When I moved to Iowa, I had to do a basic drivers test basically showing I could control my vehicle. When I moved to Colorado, I just had to have a doctors note and I was good. It is just something that is part of our disabilities that sometimes we have to jump through some extra hoops. I hope the driver’s test went well and he now has his Wisconsin drivers license!

  2. So, since I have almost the exact same body configuration you do, if I move to Wisconsin they’ll tell me I can’t drive my 1965 Beetle (or my ’65 Bus)? Thanks, but no thanks. I may not have the years Mr. Speckman has under his belt, but I think after driving vintage VWs for the last 20 years, I have the clutch and armstrong steering pretty much under control.

  3. Giving that weather conditions may different in the two states and they might have wanted to make sure, yeah. I know people are saying he drove safely but if something were to happen and they did not test him many of these same people would be up in arms about them not testing him. We love to have it both ways. I agree…turn whatever situation into something beautiful.

    • Weather differences aren’t really any excuse. If it were because weather conditions are so different between the two states (and it’s not like there’s no part of California that ever gets snow), then shouldn’t *every* California driver be re-tested when moving to Wisconsin?

      The first time I got my license renewed, I was in Salt Lake, renewing a Utah license. I mentioned that I had arrived in a vehicle with a manual transmission, and a few eyebrows went up because my left arm looks like Ryan’s. The official simply asked that I demonstrate my ability to operate the vehicle and, since I was in a 1970 Karmann Ghia, I was happy for the excuse to show off my car. Ten minutes later, when it was clear I could operate the vehicle as well as the next person, the guy signed off on it. Simple.

      It’s true that humans have a bad tendency to want things two ways, but right and wrong aren’t contingent on who gets upset. I think the DMV made a mistake in giving greater weight to an assumption about hands than to 40 years of documented experience, and that will definitely be a notable entry in the Cons column if I ever consider a move to Wisconsin.

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