Millions of people in the U.S. live with some type of disability. But having a disability does not mean driving a vehicle is out of the question.
Vehicle modifications and models equipped with adaptive apparatus are opening up driving possibilities for many. If you or a family member has a disability, here’s what you need to know about driving and how to adapt a vehicle to fit your needs.
The Vehicle in Question
As driving expert Alex Perdikis explains in his blog, new cars are being built with technologically advanced safety equipment to stop accidents before they happen. That’s good news for all types of drivers from teen to the disabled. But, depending on the disability, a disabled driver will most likely have to make some vehicle modifications in order to drive safely.
There are typically two types of automotive adaptive controls. The first modifies original equipment manufacturer components by altering vehicle control systems. Most often this type of alteration is referred to as a servo-type motion control system that reduces or eliminates driver effort. The second is a group of add-ons that trigger existing controls.
Before making any modifications, check state and federal laws to make sure your intended changes are lawful. That said, here are the most common types of adaptations to assist the disabled driver:
- Steering wheel with hand controls
- Steering wheel spinner devices
- Left foot accelerator
- Extended indicator arms
- Swivel seats
- Reduced effort braking systems
- Portable hand controls
- Wheelchair storage
Consult with a driver rehabilitation specialist before purchasing a new vehicle. The specialist can help you determine what types of modifications you need now and perhaps into the future. Costs for modifying a vehicle can be prohibitive, however. There is help.
You may be eligible for financial assistance to help pay for modifications. If you’re a veteran, check with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Your state’s vocational rehabilitation office may also be able to help. Other avenues to explore include nonprofit disability organizations, vehicle manufacturer rebates and workers’ compensation if applicable.
The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association provides pre-purchase advice as well as information about rebates. In some states, sales taxes may be waived on adaptive devices with a doctor’s prescription. You may also be eligible for tax deductions. Consult a tax professional for details.
Purchasing a Vehicle? Here’s What to Look For
If you’re thinking about purchasing a vehicle, there are specific features you can look for to make it easier to drive. It’s likely you’ll still have to make modifications, but look for the following to reduce the number of adaptive measures you’ll have to make later:
- Automatic transmission
- Power everything, from steering to seats
- A no-button, easily moveable shifter
- Recessed seat belts
- Inside steering wheel hand grips
- Leg lifter, if applicable
- Push-button ignition, if required
The Driver in You
Although your state may have different requirements, disabled drivers generally have to work through the same processes as the nondisabled to obtain a license. Disabled driver candidates must be of legal age, take lessons from a qualified instructor, pass the theory and practical driving tests and have a vehicle that’s modified to accommodate the driver’s unique challenges.
Technology is on the fast track when it comes to driving and vehicle manufacturing. Self-driving cars, smart parking, self-braking and any number of other innovative features are just the beginning of what’s to come. Drivers, disabled drivers in particular, can look ahead to even better technologies to keep them safe and mobile on the road.