As World Wheelchair Day on 1 March approaches we look at car modifications for drivers with disability and how each can support mobility needs.
Car modifications for drivers with disability vary widely, to cater to an expansive range of mobility requirements. For example, accelerator rings enable you to steer without using your lower limbs. Satellite accelerators accommodate limited arm mobility. Voice control replaces physical action for some secondary functions on a vehicle. And the list goes on…
Find out how each of these modifications function so you can begin to identify which ones you want to try out. Your driver trained occupational therapist will help familiarise you with the controls you may need and facilitate you in testing them thoroughly.
After you’ve read this, find out more about assessments given by a driver trained occupational therapist and why you need one.
Different converted car modifications for drivers with disability
Here’s a quick look at different types of car modifications for drivers with disability that this guide covers:
- Accelerator ring
- Satellite accelerator
- Left foot accelerator
- Spinner knob
- Joystick control
- Electronic clutch
- Foot steering
- Pedal extension
- Keyless entry
- Voice command
- Access and transfer options
Now you’ve seen the list, find out more about how each one can benefit disability and driving:
1. Accelerator ring
Accelerator rings are designed for people with little or no use of their lower limbs, allowing drivers to operate the accelerator with their hands. They come in two main types, over ring accelerators and under ring accelerators.
Over ring accelerators sit directly over (or in front of) the steering wheel, while under ring accelerators sit directly below (or behind) it. Drivers using accelerator rings can control acceleration without moving their hands from the steering wheel. Brakes can also be incorporated into the controls.
If you’ve heard the term ‘gas rings’ this is the same thing as an accelerator ring. Gas rings are the common name used for accelerator rings in America and Europe. Read our article on disability converted car controls and watch the video to see how accelerator rings work.
2. Satellite accelerator
Satellite accelerators are small units that are worn like a glove and control accelerator functions. Available in left and right-hand models, they’re great for people with limited arm movement because you control it using your thumb.
A satellite accelerator can be worn while holding the steering wheel or using other equipment, and it comes in wired and wireless. Wired models directly attach to the car via a cord. The main benefit of wired satellite accelerators is that they’re around half the size of the wireless versions and you don’t need to recharge them.
Wireless versions communicate with your vehicle electronically but you’ll need to recharge them regularly.
3. Left foot accelerator
Left foot accelerators, also known as inversion accelerators, allow drivers to use both the accelerator and the brake with their left foot. They can be fitted to automatic transmission vehicles and move the accelerator to the left-hand side of the brake.
Left foot accelerators are available in quick release and flip up versions, allowing other drivers to use the car. Portable versions are also available and are perfect for use in hire cars, however portable equipment is not legal in all states. Always check with your state or territory’s regulatory body for compliance.
4. Spinner knob
People who only have use of one arm or have limited arm strength can steer with the help of spinner knobs. These are attached to the steering wheel, making it easier to grip while steering so the driver can steer with one hand. Where needed, this also frees up the other arm to use hand controlled brakes and accelerators.
A variety of attachments are also available to assist people with impaired grip strength. Spinner knobs can be mounted with wireless modules so drivers can access secondary controls like indicators or windscreen wipers with the touch of a button.
Spinner knobs come in a wide range of designs; here are some examples:
|Knobs||A traditional knob design to make gripping easier|
|Rods||A longer design, for those who have trouble gripping knob designs|
|U or V Grips||Two vertical pins stabilise the hand of the driver|
|Tri-Grips||Similar to U or V grips, but with an extra pin for added stability|
|Cuff or Palm Devices||These fit over the driver’s hand, helping to hold it in place|
|Prosthetic Attachments||These can be designed to integrate directly with your prosthesis|
|Custom Designs||Many vehicle converters will design a spinner knob tailored to your needs|
5. Joystick control
Joysticks support driving with disability by controlling steering, accelerating and braking, or any combination of the three. They’re excellent for people who have very restricted arm and hand functions, with drivers being able to access controls via a turn of the wrist.
To legally drive a joystick controlled vehicle you must obtain a driver assessment from a suitably qualified occupational therapist and pass a driver licence test in an appropriate vehicle. Read about driving with disability to know more about this.
Advanced car modifications like joysticks that operate steering and brakes electronically require stringent testing and multiple redundancies to ensure their safety. Any failure of the system would obviously be extremely dangerous.
Joystick control isn’t available from all vehicle converters; if you’re considering joystick control, choose a converter who’s familiar with the technology.
There are a range of braking options available and many are built into modified accelerator systems. For example, both accelerator rings and satellite accelerators are generally purchased with braking mechanisms included.
Other braking systems include:
|Electronic Hand Brakes||Electronic hand brakes allow a driver to operate the hand brake with just the push of a button. They’re great for people with limited hand or arm strength. Electronic hand brakes can be installed in most car models.|
|Brake Levers||Brake levers attach to the steering column. To use the brake, the driver pushes forward on the lever with their hand. Brake levers are available in several designs and can incorporate controls for other functions, including lights, indicators and the horn. While brake levers can be used separately, most are incorporated into accelerator systems.|
7. Electronic clutch
Another example of car modifications for drivers with disability is the electronic clutch that allows the clutch to be operated by hand instead of foot. This allows you to operate the clutch pedal with a lever and button system attached to the gear knob.
The mechanism is controlled by a computer, which communicates directly with your vehicle’s clutch pedal. The computer can be programmed to suit your individual driving style, allowing for smooth transitions.
A range of switches are available, depending on the driver’s hand strength and control. Most electronic clutches can easily be turned off, allowing the vehicle to be driven in the traditional way.
8. Foot steering
Foot-controlled steering is one of the more recent car modifications for drivers with disability. It’s suitable for people with little or no use of their arms who have excellent lower-body strength and control.
A rotating footplate is installed to act as a steering wheel, with the left foot operating the steering while the right foot operates the brake and accelerator in the usual fashion. No arm or hand control is required to operate the vehicle’s primary functions.
Foot-controlled steering can be complemented by voice controlled secondary functions for lights, indicators, windscreen wipers and more to enable hands-free driving. Foot controls are currently only available in Australia from a limited number of manufacturers.
If you’re considering foot controls it goes without saying that you should choose a converter who’s familiar with this technology.
9. Pedal extension
Pedal extensions are designed to help people of short stature use accelerator, clutch and brake pedals. They can also be useful for people with limited leg strength or joint movement. Both the height and the space between the pedals are adjustable, allowing you to set them for maximum ease of use and comfort.
Some pedal extensions also include a quick release raised floor assembly, allowing drivers to rest their feet on the floor when not in use. Pedal extensions are available in either fold away or removable versions, allowing other drivers to use the traditional car controls in the typical manner.
10. Keyless entry
Most new cars now come with keyless entry. If yours doesn’t, there are many types available through the mainstream automotive market. Some options operate via Bluetooth, unlocking the doors automatically when you approach the car and locking them again when you leave. You don’t even have to find your key fob or press a button.
Other designs can be operated via an app on your smartphone. Read more about general smartphone accessibility features here.
With keyless entry you can lock and unlock your doors from any distance, as long as you have an internet connection. These designs are all available in the mainstream market and don’t require a specialist vehicle converter. If you need assistance in deciding which option is right for you, speak to your occupational therapist for more advice.
11. Voice command
Use voice command technology to operate your vehicle’s secondary controls such as lights, windows and indicators. As car modifications for drivers with disability go, voice control can improve your overall driving experience and you can even train it to recognise your unique voice. This makes it safer to use even when you have the sound of passengers talking or the radio on.
Voice command will only respond to you, and is accessible for individual accents and even some types of speech impediments.
12. Access and transfers
More car modifications for drivers with disability include mechanisms to help with access and transfer to and from your car. These include swivel seats, grab rails, transfer seats and sling lifts:
|Swivel Seats||A swivel seat for the car can help you transfer more easily between your wheelchair and car seat. They can be installed to swivel so they turn out of the vehicle and allow you to transfer from your wheelchair into the car seat before swivelling back into position.|
|Lowering Swivel Seat||For greater assistance, a lowering swivel seat can be programmed to swivel and lower outside the car to make transferring easier. Lowering swivel seats also often have sliding and reclining functions.|
|Swivel Cushion||A swivel cushion is a simpler, more affordable option but doesn’t offer as much mobility support. It sits on your car seat and uses a base plate attached to a rotating cushion. It operates like a lazy Susan to help you to spin into position more easily using your own momentum.|
|Portable Grab Rails||For added stability while entering and exiting the car, portable grab rails can attach easily to your vehicle. If you have a larger vehicle like a minivan, you can install fold-down steps or permanent grab rails.|
|Transfer Chairs and Sling Lifts||People unable to do sliding or standing transfers from their wheelchairs can use transfer chairs, which allow a user to remain seated while transferring. In-car passenger sling lifts are also available.|
Insurance for your car and modifications
For drivers with disability, buying a converted car and testing, choosing and buying car modifications all take time and are a big investment. Thankfully, comprehensive car insurance for your vehicle and the assistive technology you use to drive can help safeguard your car when it’s ready to go.
And while mainstream insurers often charge more for disability modified vehicles, Blue Badge Insurance doesn’t. We offer cost-effective insurance for wheelchair accessible vehicles and converted cars with a real understanding of what you need because we’re a specialist insurance provider.
Contact us today for this and/or for wheelchair insurance and mobility scooter insurance. We also offer discounted disability car insurance for disability parking permit holders. Time for a quick quote?