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Adaptive driving

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Adaptive driving allows persons with disability or impairment to operate a motor vehicle. The purpose of this article is to discuss adaptations to a motor vehicle which will make driving with a disability possible.


Before You Drive

It is important to have a proper evaluation and training before beginning to make modifications to a vehicle. A person who was has never driven with a disability may feel like there is no need for an assessment but it is critical for the safety of all drivers. An evaluation with a certified individual will assess what modifications need to be made to a vehicle to make the driving experience as safe as possible.

Driver Evaluation

A Driver Rehabilitation Specialist is a certified professional who will conduct a driver evaluation and recommend modifications for safe driving. Below is a list of some of the key points in the evaluation according to Senior Health on [1]

  • Vision screening
  • Assessment of muscle strength, flexibility and range of motion
  • Assessment of coordination and reaction time
  • Assessment of judgment and decision making abilities
  • Assessment of ability to drive with adaptive equipment

According to the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists[2] the following links will discuss driving issues for each condition. Each document describes warning signs that a driving evaluation might be necessary and the accommodations which might be necessary.

A summary of warning signs compiled from the above documents follows. If you or some one you know exhibits these signs, it may be time for a driver evaluation.

  • Inappropriate driving speeds
  • Frequently getting lost
  • Poor road position
  • Slow or poor reactions to traffic or road conditions
  • Accidents or close calls
  • Needs instructions from passengers
  • Doesn’t observe signs or signals
  • Easily frustrated or confused

Where to Find a Qualified Dealer for Modifications

Modifications should be made on a vehicle by a qualified dealer. A registry of qualified dealers is located on The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association website.[3]

Accommodations for Entry

For information about ramps and entrance to vehicles go to these pages on ATWiki.

Accommodations to Seating

There can be several accommodations made to the driver seat in order to make it more accessible. A few options include: swivel seat, grab bars, or removal of the seat for driving in a power chair. For those who require more stability a 5 point seat belt may be installed. Bruno is a company that sells a powered swivel seat that they call the Turning Automotive Seating, which can swivel out through the door and drop down to an ideal height for transfers. Videos of the seat in operation can be found on the Bruno website.

Accommodations to Primary Controls

There are many modifications which can be made to the primary controls for a vehicle. Primary controls are considered to be the steering, accelerator, and brake. Modifications can be made in a variety of ways from basic pedal extensions all the way up to electronic joystick systems.

Mechanical Primary Controls

Single Pin Foam Grip from Mobility Products & Design
Single Pin Foam Grip from Mobility Products & Design

Mechanical controls are typically additions to a vehicle which utilize lever systems to manipulate the existing controls. The foot pedals can be modified in two distinct ways mechanically. A left foot accelerator can be installed for a person who no longer has adequate control of their right foot. An extension lever with a hand grip can also be attached to the standard accelerator/brake foot pedal control. The accelerator and brake controls in this group work using a push pull mechanism. A video of an accelerator modification can be found at Accelerator Video. A video of a brake modification is also located on the same website at Brake Video.Steering control can be adapted by adding any of an assortment of attachments for one handed driving. An example is in the photo on the right. Other grips may include a three pin set up or a knob. The Mobility Products & Design web site has quality images of the various types.

Electronic Primary Controls

WJ Series Electronic Controller by Electronic Mobility Controls
WJ Series Electronic Controller by Electronic Mobility Controls

Electronic controls are systems which are wired into the vehicle which allow for control with alternative methods which do not have to be attached to the existing controls. One electronic system would the system pictured at right. The single axis joystick controls the accelerator and brake, while the small wheel controls the steering. Other joystick designs included multi-axial joysticks which can be used to control speed and direction.

Accommodations to Secondary Controls

All of the other items under driver control in a vehicle are considered secondary controls. Examples of secondary controls are the gear shift, parking brake, turn signals, horn, radio, and many others. Secondary controls can be easily taken for granted by an able-bodied driver, but control of temperature and the radio may also be important features to a person without the range to reach to original controls.

Mechanical Secondary Controls

Parking brake extension from Mobility Products & Design
Parking brake extension from Mobility Products & Design

Mechanical secondary controls are commonly extended levers which are attached to the existing control. A parking brake extension requires less force due to the extended lever arm. An extension to the gear shift may also be considered a mechanical control. A turn signal extension is another example.

Electronic Secondary Controls

CP05 Palm Control with 3 rocker switches from Driving Systems Inc.
CP05 Palm Control with 3 rocker switches from Driving Systems Inc.
Gold Series Voice Activated Controller from Electronic Mobility Controls
Gold Series Voice Activated Controller from Electronic Mobility Controls

Electronic Secondary controls can quickly become very involved on the design end, but provide ease of use for the driver. The systems vary depending on the supplier but can be incorporated into a primary electronic joystick control, or may be a separate push button matrix. Voice activated controllers can also be used to give the driver hands free manipulation of the environment.

Important Notice

This article is a brief review of available products for adaptive driving. Before any modifications are made to a vehicle, an evaluation by a trained professional should take place. The products displayed on this page exhibit the wide range of available products. Some vehicle modifications may be covered by insurance; others most likely will not be covered. Be sure to check with your physician and insurance company before placing orders for any equipment.

References and Websites of Interest