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Driving Safely with Disabilities


 red van pulls up in front of a five-star hotel. At first glance, there is nothing unusual about this vehicle. Then its famous occupant emerges from the interior, and one takes a closer look at the car. The car is a modified Voyager, and the driver is the infamous scientist and author, Stephen Hawking.

As some of you may know, Hawkings suffers from a motor neuron disease. His vehicle was customized by cutting away the floor, widening the door, increasing the roof height, and building a folding ramp to allow Hawkingís wheelchair to navigate into the van. 

The introduction of new technology has broadened the opportunities for disabled people to drive modified vehicles. All states require a valid learnerís permit or driverís license to receive a road evaluation. It is illegal to deny anyone the opportunity to apply for a permit or a license because of a disability, but a disabled person may receive a restricted license based on their proficiency of adaptive devices. They must take the standard driving test, but if they can only drive in a modified vehicle, they will be able to take the test in that vehicle.

If you are a person with a physical disability, you must get professional assistance from a driving assessment service. This service will test your driving ability on the road and identify the adaptive equipment most suitable. A complete evaluation includes the following tests: vision, muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, coordination and reaction time, and judgement and decision making ability. It also includes advice and instructions on the controls and adaptations needed for access, seating, and to drive safely and comfortably.

After completing the evaluation, a report is issued containing specific recommendations on driving requirements or restrictions, and a list of recommended vehicle modifications. The proper modifications are the responsibility of the vehicle modification dealer, but there are a number of questions that can help the buyer with proper vehicle selection. Consider the following:

        Do you need a van or will another passenger vehicle be sufficient?

        Can the vehicle accommodate the necessary equipment that must be installed?

        Will there be enough space to fit other passengers once the vehicle is modified?

        Is there adequate parking space at home and at work for unloading a wheelchair?

        Are there additional options for the safe operation of the vehicle?

Be sure to locate a qualified dealer to modify your vehicle. Even a half-inch change in the lowering of a van floor can affect a driverís ability to drive. While your vehicle is being modified, you will probably need to be available for fittings. This is extremely important to avoid problems with the safe operation of the vehicle.


Your vehicle can be modified in a number of ways. Your car can be outfitted with hand controls to brake and accelerate. Knobs can be attached to the steering wheel, handbrake devices can be installed, additional car mirrors can be added, seatbelts modified and harnesses added, seating can be modified, and a storage area for a wheelchair can be installed. A power gear shift control can replace the gear shift lever located for the driverís ease of operation. A single four function switch, called a Smart Switch, can be mounted on the hand control, dash, or wall for operation of the horn, turn lights, lights, and wipers. A Key Extender can be installed. This is a lightweight aluminum key extension that allows people with little or no finger dexterity to handle the ignition key. Transfer seats can be installed for those who can transfer from a wheelchair to a car seat. A four-way joystick can be used for steering and to accelerate and brake. The roof and the doors can be raised, and the floor lowered for the wheelchair access of driver or passengers. Rear door entry can incorporate a ramp into the lowered floor portion of the van. 

Numerous disabilities can affect driving. Progressive diseases may require adjustments in vehicle modifications. It should never been assumed with a progressive disease that driving will remain unaffected. Additionally, the effect of medications must be evaluated to ensure that it will not impair driving ability.

For the deaf, additional rear and side vision mirrors may help detect vehicles, especially emergency vehicles that use sound and lights to alert drivers.

If you fail the driving test, there are other options for mobility. Scooter and power chairs are battery powered and have three or four wheels. Because they arenít considered motor vehicles, you donít need a license to operate one. However, you must use common sense and drive with consideration for other vehicles and pedestrians. If youíre involved in a crash, you must stop and follow the same procedures as an automotive accident.

If youíre driving a power chair or mobility scooter, it is important to drive safely. Adjust your speed to the surrounding conditions. Try to plan your travel to miss the heaviest pedestrian traffic. Drive slowly over hazardous road conditions. Make sure to lower your speed when turning abruptly. When driving on a footpath, try to see all around you and allow as much room for pedestrians to pass you as possible. If you have turn indicators, be sure to use them, or use hand signals. Cross at pedestrian crossings, and be sure to check that the road is clear. 

There are several safety accessories you can take advantage of including indicators, lights, horns, reversing beepers, warning flags, and rear view mirrors.

Authorities can deny a handicapped person permission to drive only in extreme circumstances, such as when the safety of the person and others may be compromised. Many people with disabilities will be able to drive with modified vehicles, but they must be aware that their physical challenges require that they adapt to many changes, including how to use new equipment properly in order to keep their driving safe.


Also see:

Safety Issues for Cars & Drivers  

Important Tips About Child Restraints-Part 2 -continuation of car seat safety.

Important Tips About Child Restraints-Part 3 -final chapter of the car seat series.

Emergency:Loss of Steering Due to a Blowout -learn these important tips for dealing with a sudden blowout.

Emergency: Driving on Flooded Roads -it's been raining for hours and you have to drive.  Read on...


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