Each disability is unique and every driver has different strengths, weakness and needs, therefore the vehicle choice and the way that it is adapted needs to be customised according to the individual. This is a guide to the most common adaptations, with guidelines as to how to get started when driving with a physical disability.
The first step is to choose a suitable vehicle. For most types of physical disabilities, an automatic vehicle is required as this simplifies the driving process and reduces the number of actions required at any one time. The correct positioning of the person when driving is essential for enabling them to optimise the function that they have. Once they are correctly positioned in relation to the driving controls, then suitable controls can be chosen according to their physical strengths. CLICK HERE to see more on Driver Positioning.
Considering the following features will simplify the challenge of getting into and out of the vehicle and will allow the driver to establish a comfortable driving position.
- The height of the driver’s seat in relation to the wheelchair. This will influence the level of difficulty of the transfer into and out of the vehicle.
- How wide the doors open to allow driver to get close to seat to transfer. This includes the angle that the door opens to combined with the width of the door aperture. If the door does not open wide enough, the wheelchair will not be able to get close to the driver’s seat, therefore forcing a longer and more difficult transfer. 2 door cars normally have the widest opening.
- How far back the seat moves and reclines – this creates space for the transfer as well as loading a wheelchair passed the steering wheel.
- The internal height of the vehicle allowing maximum space when loading the wheelchair. A low roof makes it more difficult to lift the wheelchair through into the car.
- A height adjustable seat can make transfers easier by adjusting the seat height to a similar level to the wheelchair as well as allowing for the correct height for driving.
- Electric seat adjustments are a lot easier than manual adjustments, particularly for moving the seat forwards and backwards without leg function. Having memory settings simplifies the task of repeated seat adjustments for the transfer position, wheelchair loading position and the driving position. Manual seat adjustments may require some adapting for limited hand and leg function.
- Width of the door sill affects how far you have to transfer.
- Space in the foot well to move feet away from the pedals.
- Adjustable steering wheels to get the optimal position – adjustments are usually lost once permanent hand controls are fitted.
- Power steering for weak arms.
- For people with limited hand function, check buttons and levers for secondary and auxiliary controls. Controls on the steering wheel reduce the need to take a hand off the steering wheel when driving with hand controls.
- Some gear shift levers require a button that must be pushed in when putting the vehicle into reverse of drive, this may require an adaptation for Quadriplegic hands, while some have a step system that requires the lever to be moved along a guide but without the need for pushing buttons and therefore no adaptations needed.
- Rain sensitive window wipers, automatic lights reduce the amount the hands must do when using hand controls.
- Cruise control – energy saving for hand controls
- Electrically adjustable exterior mirrors
- Boot size for loading wheelchairs
- Versatility of the seating arrangements in order to create more space for wheelchairs and equipment.
- A tyre pressure monitor is a great feature where it is not easy for the driver to quickly jump out the car if you suspect you have a flat tyre.
- Built in arm rests are invaluable for resting an elbow while driving with hand controls as this reduces the strain on the shoulders, particularly for long distance driving. They also assist by improving the stability of drivers who have no balance.
- Park brakes now come in a variety of options. The traditional hand brake may require adapting if the user has no hand function, a foot park brake may require an extra hand control to be fitted, while electronic park brakes may assist people with limited hand function depending on the size and action of the button.