If you have a disability that affects your ability to drive, there are car adaptations available that may make it possible for you to drive safely and with full control over the vehicle.
If you have a notifiable disability you must tell the Department of Motor Vehicles so they can determine whether its safe for you to drive. You may be instructed to have modifications made to your vehicle, in which case an adaptation assessment will be carried out to figure out your needs.
Once given the go-ahead, you may also wish to seek out specialised motability insurance that caters specifically to your needs, although insurers may not be allowed to charge you a higher premium without justifying evidence.
Let’s take a look at the equipment available that enables disabled drivers to take to the road:
Primary Control Adaptations
Primary controls are those that are directly related to driving: steering, accelerating, braking and changing gear.
Spinners are steering wheel attachments that make it easier for people who can’t grip properly or have weak wrists. They range from mushroom-shaped knobs to frames you can place your hand in. Mini-steering wheels are also available for those with a smaller range of motion.
Joysticks and tillers are steering wheel replacements, both of which require little movement and can be fitted with extra controls for braking and accelerating.
Foot steerers come in the form of turntables or treadles and are for people who are unable to steer using their hands.
Accelerating and Braking
Hand controls for brakes and accelerators can be fitted to the steering wheel, steering wheel column, or on the floor beside the driver, for those who are unable to operate pedals with their feet.
Pedal extensions are useful for those who can’t reach the regular foot pedals, and left-foot accelerators are for those who can’t use their right leg. There are several types of left-foot accelerators available, some of which are removable to allow other drivers to use the vehicle safely.
For those drivers that are unable to change gears using the clutch, a couple of options are available: automatic and semi-automatic transmissions.
Automatic transmissions are something everyone is familiar with as they don’t require you to change gear at all — you just put the car in the mode you need (drive, reverse, park or neutral) and the car will change gears automatically.
Semi-automatic transmissions give greater control over the vehicle. Some allow you to change gear using the gear stick as normal — but without touching the clutch — while others are operated at the push of a button.
Electronic parking brakes are designed to release automatically as you pull away, while other modifications simply make it easier to operate the brake by hand.
Secondary Control Adaptations
Secondary controls are functions that do not directly drive the vehicle, such as the lights, indicators, horn, windshield wipers, heating and air conditioning.
Simple controls are attachments fitted to the vehicle that allow you to use the current secondary controls. For example, a lever can be fitted that allows you to operate the indicators from the opposite side of the steering wheel.
Complex controls are electronic controls designed to be used at the push of a button. They are usually built-in to steering equipment or a separate panel in a convenient location, such as the dashboard or door.
Voice-activated controls are an option if you are not very dexterous or have a limited range of motion.
Rotating and electronically moveable chairs can be fitted, as can special cushions and harnesses — all of which help disabled people get into a comfortable position more easily.
Many vehicles can be made wheelchair accessible with things such as ramps and hoists, and some even allow disabled people to drive while seated in their wheelchairs.
Satellite navigation, cruise control and parking sensors and cameras are all gadgets designed for the regular driver, but which can be particularly useful to disabled drivers.
Be sure to test any adaptations out before you commit to them — you will need to make sure that they are easy to reach and operate, and that they meet all your needs. You should also take into account whether anyone else will need to drive the vehicle, as you may wish to have removable modifications fitted in this case.
Once you are happy with your choices, have your modifications fitted by a specialist and you will be back on the road — driving safely — in no time.
Photos courtesy the Braun Corporation.