Adaptive Auto Technologies
Many adaptive driving devices are available for the aid of individuals with physical disabilities. The aids used for a specific individual will depend on that person’s physical needs as well as his or her preferences. Some common types of vehicle modifications involve changes to the car’s mechanical systems, steering devices, or foot and hand controls. Changes to vehicle seating or the individual’s method of entering the vehicle might also be necessary. It is recommended that any modification to an individual’s vehicle should be assessed in a real-life driving environment before the individual decides to permanently install the device.
Some of the common adaptations to the major systems of the vehicle can include installing an automatic transmission in lieu of a manual shift and clutch; providing power steering that allows operation of the steering wheel with only one hand; and switching to a power braking system used in conjunction with hand-operated controls. Steering changes can include a floor-mounted wheel for steering with one’s foot; a modified effort system for steering, which reduces the amount of personal strength required for steering or braking; and the installation of devices that modify how steering is operated, such as an amputee ring, tri pin, quad fork, or spinner knob. Custom-built steering devices are also available. Other options include extensions of existing foot pedals or the installation of an accelerator that is operated with the left foot.
Some modified vehicles may use hand controls that feature one lever for all braking and accelerating actions, along with minor controls such as turn signals, wipers, or horn. It should be noted that the Veterans Administration does not recommend the use of mounted or temporary hand controls. It is also possible to shift gears with the left hand by way of an electric gear selector. Some individuals might require the installation of a turn signal operated by the right hand. A remote switch can be used for repositioning the controls for secondary operations like turn signals.
Modifications to seating or vehicle entry are often required to make vehicles accessible for drivers with physical limitations. Some limitations might require the use of power seats, which reduce the difficulty of transferring into the vehicle, or custom seating that accommodates specific needs for stability, balance, or positioning. Adjustments to lap or shoulder safety belts could also be required. For individuals with mobility issues, lamps or lifts make it easier to get in and out of the vehicle. Those who use a wheelchair or scooter may need a specialized lift to accommodate this device. A wheelchair carrier might also be required for ease of transporting a wheelchair out of the vehicle.
For individuals who have physical limitations, there are programs available for driver rehabilitation that can help with the adjustment to adaptive driving. Each of these programs should feature a certified specialist in driver rehabilitation, in addition to vehicles and equipment that are needed. The specialist will begin by evaluating the driver’s visual, cognitive, and perceptual functioning and physical limitations. For individuals using a wheelchair or other specialized seating, the specialist will also assess this equipment. Next, the specialist will assess the driver’s ability to function safely within a real driving environment using the provided equipment. Based on these assessments, the specialist will provide a prescription for vehicular modification, including a detailed description of the driver’s vehicle, its dimensions, and any mobility devices that are needed, such as a scooter or wheelchair. The driver will be fully educated on the operation of a vehicle containing the equipment that has been prescribed for him or her. Finally, when the needed equipment has been added to the driver’s vehicle, the specialist will perform one last check to assess the driver’s use of the new equipment.
Selecting a vehicle requires careful consideration of several important factors. It may be helpful to consult with your physical therapist, occupational therapist, or doctor when making this decision. You can also use the services of a certified specialist in adaptive driving, who can help you select a vehicle as part of a driver rehabilitation program. Here are some of the factors to consider when selecting a vehicle for your personal transportation needs. First, think about your specific needs. Can you use a form of public transportation, or do you need a personal vehicle? Do you intend to drive the vehicle yourself or be a passenger? Will a car provide adequate space, or will you require a larger vehicle such as a mini-van, full-size van, or truck? If you intend to be the driver, consider whether you can cope with the stress of driving, which can be physically and mentally challenging.
You should also give thought to your physical limitations, which will affect your ability to drive a vehicle or even complete a transfer into the vehicle. Based on your individual limitations, consider whether you will need a lift for assistance and which type of lift best meets your needs (superarm or platform swing-out, electric or hydraulic, rear or side entrance, etc.). Will you need to raise the vehicle’s doors and top, or lower the floor? You may require a power seat to access the driver’s side of the vehicle, or perhaps you will need to be seated in your wheelchair or scooter while driving. Think about your total height when seated, from head to ground, as well as the width and length of your scooter or wheelchair.
It is also wise to consider the financial and safety aspects of the vehicle you use for modifications. You may want to assess your eligibility for sources of alternative funding, such as services for vocational rehabilitation or developmental disabilities; the Veterans Administration; health insurance; or Workman’s Compensation. A certified accountant may also be able to assist you with tax credits that can help cover the needed modifications. In some cases, a vehicle manufacturer may offer a rebate program, or the car dealership might have a financing package that can help. For safety reasons, it’s also a good idea to plan ahead for vehicle emergencies. Be aware of coverage provided by any warranty or service programs available for your vehicle. If you will be out of town, make a note of places where repair work can be done in case of an emergency.
Please refer to the following links for additional information on adaptive auto technologies and related resources.
- Using a Wheelchair as a Seat in a Motor Vehicle
- Resources for Vans and Vehicle Modifications
- Adaptive Driving / Vehicle Adaptations
- Adapting Motor Vehicles for People with Disabilities
- Common Vehicle Modifications for Persons with Disabilities
- Accessible Vehicles Q & A
- Automobiles and Adaptive Equipment for Certain Disabled Veterans and Members of the Armed Forces
- Adapting a Motor Vehicle for a Person with a Disability
- Mobility Evaluation Program
- Equity in Transportation for People with Disabilities