How to Choose the Best Driving Aids for Disabled Drivers
When you need additional support in driving your vehicle, choosing the right adaptations and controls can make the difference between maintaining your freedom and independence, or finding yourself frustrated, in pain, or unable to drive the way you want.
Choosing the right driving controls depends on a number of factors, including:
- Your specific disability
- The areas of the body affected by your disability – do you need aids for hand or foot motions?
- Your strength – including grip strength and overall upper body strength
- Your range of movement
- The functions you need help with
Which hand controls?
Hand controls include a range of functions, but let’s look at acceleration and braking for a second. There are a variety of different brands and types of control, and not all of them work for everyone – depending on your needs, you may find one far more suitable than the other.
Push Pull Hand Controls – as the name suggests, these controls involve you pushing or pulling on a lever to activate the brakes or accelerator – you push it away from you to brake and pull it towards you to accelerate. This means you need to have enough upper body strength, and a reasonable amount of grip strength, in order to operate them.
Radial Hand Controls – alternatively, the lever involved in the radial controls is pushed down to accelerate and away from you to brake, meaning you don’t need to grip it in the same way, requiring less strength and grip for acceleration than the push pull controls.
Feeny and Johnson Hand Controls – with these controls, you have two levers, one for the brakes and the other for the accelerator, mounted under the rim of the steering wheel. They only require light finger pressure, so they’re suitable for people with less upper body strength.
Gas Ring and Brake – a slightly different approach, the gas ring is installed above or below the steering wheel and you push or pull the ring (depending on what is most comfortable) to accelerate. You keep both hands on the wheel and don’t have to move your arms far – ideal if your range of motion is limited. Brakes are operated by the same type of lever as the Push Pull controls.
Understanding your own strengths and abilities helps to define which of the options will be the most effective for your needs. Separate from strength, you may also discover that you find it easier to use a single lever, or the opposite – everyone’s different, that’s why we have different options!
Although the accelerator generally requires less force than braking, it does require constant pressure for prolonged periods of time, which can be tiring and problematic. Electronics can be used to overcome this, and there are several types of electronic throttles available to suit you.
An Electric Throttle and Push Brake uses the same braking lever as the Push Pull controls, but the accelerator is operated by an electronic trigger at the end of the lever. The trigger requires only a small amount of force and movement to operate.
The Electric Brake and Accelerator is ideal for people with limited strength and movement. Different formats are available, but the principle is that the brakes and accelerator can be operated with minimal force and movement. The range of movement and required force can be tailored to your strength and personal needs. This system is usually operated by hand, but can also be integrated into bespoke pedal controls too.
Using your feet
If you are able to use your feet up to a point, there are many possible adaptations to your vehicle’s pedals to suit your requirements. From a simple left-foot accelerator to bespoke electronic foot controls, there are plenty of options available.
One of the most common pedal adaptations is the Flip Up Accelerator, for people who can only use their left leg or foot. A second accelerator pedal is installed to the left of the brake pedal.
Both accelerator pedals are connected by a cable and spring assembly, so as you use one, the other flips out of the way. This means that only one pedal is in operation at any time, depending on who is driving.
What about Steering and Joystick systems?
Steering is another driving function that can be made easier through adaptations for disabled drivers – if your strength or range of movement is limited, you may find it difficult to steer your vehicle safely.
If you’re able to use your standard steering wheel, but find that it’s just a little too heavy, the best option for you might simply be Power Steering Lightening – turning the steering wheel will be significantly easier, without the need for any additional modifications. The amount of assistance can be tailored to suit your requirements – perhaps a smaller steering wheel might be helpful too.
Joysteer is a digital electronic steering and/or brake and accelerator system, which offers a range of different steering options, from handlebars or mini wheels to various different joysticks. No matter how you want to steer, there’s an option.
Space Drive is another digital electronic steering and/or brake and accelerator system that offers similar choices to the Joysteer products. We’re able to advise which of these systems best suits your individual requirements, so you don’t need to worry too much about having to choose between them.
Getting it Right
The key with any disability adaptation is getting the right solution for you – which is exactly where we can help, as we have been for the past 34 plus years!
You may have already had an assessment of your needs and abilities, and already have a good idea of what you’re looking for. The important thing is that your needs are fully understood. If we assess your requirements and we don’t have the right solution for you, we won’t try to sell you an alternative solution that could be wrong for you – your mobility and safety are too important.