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Driving Controls for People With Disability

Rapidly improving technologies mean that more and more people with disabilities are now able to drive independently. There are a myriad of driving controls available in today’s market, including hand controls, foot controls and voice command controls. The type best suited for you will depend on the nature of your disability. Read on to find out more.

 

Hand Driving Controls

The most common driving controls are hand controls. There are two main types of hand driving controls, those that transfer functions normally accessed by the feet to hand control, and those that make traditional hand controls more easily accessible to people with impaired hand and/or arm strength and mobility.

Transferred Pedal Functions

Traditionally, most drivers use their feet to access their vehicle’s accelerator, brake and clutch. For people with limited foot control, all of these functions can be transferred to hand control, making for total, foot-free driving. There are a number of hand-controlled brakes and accelerators available on the market, many systems combine operation of brake and accelerator into one system. Popular hand-controlled accelerator and brake systems include:

  • Ring accelerators which are mounted on the steering wheel.
  • Electronic radial and trigger accelerators.
  • Satellite controls, which are worn by the driver like a glove.
  • Brake levers, which are mounted on the steering column.
  • Mechanical hand controls for accelerator and brake.

 

Wireless satellite accelerator
Wireless Satellite Accelerator

 

Spinner grip with multi-function keypad
Spinner Grip with Multi-Function Keypad

For drivers who use a manual transmission who are unable to operate the clutch with their foot, electronic clutch controls can be installed on the gear leaver.

Controlling the Steering

Often a person’s ability to engage with the steering wheel is affected by their disability. There are a range of options to assist with this, from a simple spinner knob through to bespoke steering aids made to suit a person’s specific disability.

Steering aids are also available with switches to enable operation of secondary functions such as indicators, high and low beam lights and the horn. There is a large range and variety of steering aids available and it is advisable that you speak with your Occupational Therapist and vehicle modifier can assist with selecting a safe and suitable option.

Radial ring
Radial Ring

Spinner knob
Spinner Knob


Spinner Hand Controls

One of the most important functions that is usually performed by a driver’s hands and arms is steering. One of the most commonly used hand steering options are spinner knobs, designed to make turning the steering wheel easier. Many spinner knobs also include features that provide orthopaedic support to a driver’s arms while steering.

For people with inadequate strength and range of movement to operate conventional or modified conventional controls, there are alternative controls available that require extremely low effort. These controls provide an option to be able to steer, brake and accelerate using very small movements and low effort. There are a range of devices that a person can use. These are very advanced driving controls and, because any failure of the system could be extremely dangerous, these modifications require stringent independent testing and competent multiple redundancies to ensure their safety.

If you are considering such low effort control systems, ensure that they have the required certification and testing and that the vehicle converter you choose is experienced in working with these technologies.

Secondary functions, like lights, indicators, windscreen wipers and windows are also usually controlled by a driver’s hands. There are many ways to modify access to secondary controls. They can be incorporated into mechanical hand controls, electronic radial and occasionally brake levers. They can also be controlled by a remote unit which attaches to your steering wheel, spinner knob or steering aids. For people with more serious hand or arm impairments, they can be mounted on head-activated switches or operated by voice-control units.

Five-way keypad hand-controls for indicator, lights, horn and wipers
Five-Way Keypad Hand-Controls for Indicator, Lights, Horn and Wipers

Hand break modification
Hand Brake Modification

Foot Steering Controls

One of the more recent developments in accessible driving is foot-controlled steering. Foot-controlled steering is suitable for people with little or no use of their arms, but drivers must 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 steering
Foot Steering

Foot-controlled steering can be complimented by voice controlled secondary functions for lights, indicators, windscreen wipers and the like, allowing for hands-free driving. Foot controls are currently only available in Australia from a limited number of manufacturers. If you are considering foot controls make sure that choose a converter that is familiar with this technology.

Voice Command Controls

Voice command technology can be used to operate your vehicle’s secondary controls. Voice command units connect directly to your car for instant control of windscreen wipers, windows, lights, horns and indicators. Many voice command units can be trained to recognise your specific voice, making them accessible to people with heavy accents and some types of speech impediments.

Voice activated controls
Voice Activated Controls

 

Different Types of Driving Controls

  • People with limited use of their legs can get hand controls for functions like accelerators, brakes and clutches.
  • Pedals can be lengthened for people of short stature or rearranged for people who only have use of one leg.
  • People who only have use of one arm or who have limited arm strength can steer with the help of spinner knobs. There are even driving control options available for people who have no use of their arms, but who have good lower body control. The driver steers with his or her left leg, using a rotating footplate, while they operate the brake and accelerator with their right.
  • Controls which are not used while driving, such as automatic doors or ramps, can even controlled via your laptop or smartphone.
  • Voice command technology can be used to operate your vehicle’s secondary controls such as lights, windows and indicators.

 

Want to learn more? Download our A-Z Guide on Disability Converted Cars to learn everything you need to know about buying, owning and maintaining a disability converted vehicle.

 

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