What is Adaptive Driving?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Adaptive driving is the use of assistive technology to allow people with mobility impairments to drive vehicles. Wheelchair users can often drive a vehicle with minimal modifications or adjustments and adaptations are also available to people with dwarfism and other conditions that might make driving a standardized vehicle challenging. There are a number of companies around the world that specialize in offering adaptive driving services, including modifications of existing vehicles and resales of vehicles that have been modified for adaptive driving.

Adaptive driving allows adjustments to be made to vehicles driven by people with dwarfism.
Adaptive driving allows adjustments to be made to vehicles driven by people with dwarfism.

Whether someone has acquired a disability and wants to return driving or is learning to drive for the first time with a disability, it is advisable to see a driving rehabilitation specialist for an evaluation. These allied health professionals can evaluate people with disabilities to identify specific issues that will need to be addressed with vehicle modifications. If possible, the specialist will take the client for an on-the-road test in a modified vehicle to give the client an opportunity to see what adaptive driving is like, and driving lessons can also be offered.

Wheelchair users can often drive cars with minimal modifications.
Wheelchair users can often drive cars with minimal modifications.

Some common modifications to enable people with disabilities to drive include hand controls for people who cannot operate foot pedals, special seating to make it easy to transfer from a wheelchair to a car and back again, and wheelchair lifts or ramps that allow people to easily enter and exit vehicles. Lifts and ramps allow wheelchair users much more independence, as many do not need aides to assist them with entering and exiting their vehicles if a ramp or lift is available.

Other adaptive driving modifications can include voice controls for some of the systems in a car, lifts or blocks for short drivers who cannot reach the pedals, and kits for people who need to rent cars. Portable hand controls can be installed on a rental car very easily and allow people who cannot operate foot pedals to rent a standard vehicle while on trips, rather than needing to make arrangements for an adapted vehicle.

Modifications required for adaptive driving vary in cost and complexity. It is recommended to use a mechanic or dealer with experience in installing such systems, rather than relying on a mechanic who is not familiar with them to install them, test, and maintain them. Once modified, an adapted vehicle tends to retain resale value, as in the event that the vehicle needs to be sold, someone who needs a vehicle with those modifications will probably be available to buy it. In some communities, charitable organizations pay for retrofitting vehicles so that people with disabilities who have limited budgets can access adapted vehicles.

Learning to drive on their own can be a great step toward regaining independence after a serious accident or illness.
Learning to drive on their own can be a great step toward regaining independence after a serious accident or illness.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

chivebasil
My friend's wife was born without a left hand. She is completely capable and has no problems doing anything you or I would do. But there is a stipulation that if she is going to drive a car it has to have what is commonly known as a suicide knob on the steering wheel. I am not sure what the real name is but most people know it by its nickname which comes from the world of drag racing and trick driving.

It is basically a large, palm shaped bulb which allows an impaired driver to imitate the hand over hand motion you are supposed to use when you turn. The funny thing is that for most people having a suicide knob on your car is illegal but for her it is required. She actually got a ticket for not having one once.

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