6 Custom Features that Make Handicap Driving Easier

January 27, 2012

There is a wide variety of vehicle customizations designed to make handicap driving easier. Just because an individual is afflicted with a physical impairment does not mean they must give up their mobility. All of the devices listed below are designed to preserve the mobility of people with disabilities. However, with some devices, the type of vehicles suited for installation are limited. If you use a wheelchair or scooter, you may be limited to minivans and full-sized vans. Choose the type of modification that best suits your physical and financial situation. Consult with several dealers and installers before purchasing to make sure you get the best price and service. Vehicle adaptations for handicapped drivers and passengers include parking tags, trailer hitches, ramps and lifts, assistive seats and steps, steering knobs, and pedal controls.

1. Handicap Parking Tags

The first step to increasing the mobility of a disabled individual is to apply for special handicapped tags through the local DMV. Vehicles bearing these tags are permitted to park in handicapped spaces. The handicapped spaces in parking lots are usually located closer to the building entrance than other parking spots. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that new construction of public buildings includes wheelchair access ramps.

2. Trailer Hitch

If your vehicle has a hitch, you can install a platform to tow wheelchairs or scooters. When selecting a hitch, refer to the tongue weight rating, not the trailer weight rating. Class 2 hitches, rated for 300 lbs., should be sufficient for most purposes.

3. Wheelchair Ramp or Lift

If you drive a van, you can install a ramp or hydraulic lift at the rear hatch or side door. Hydraulic lifts are classified as "occupied" or "unoccupied", depending on whether the user can sit in the wheelchair while it is being lifted. You may have to remove some of the passenger seats to fit these devices.

4. Assistive Seats and Steps

For semi-ambulatory individuals, consider installing assistive seats or steps. Assistive seats utilize the original seat base. An inboard lever spins the seat 90 degrees towards the passenger side door. A paddle switch allows the operator to extend and tilt the seat. These features make it easier for individuals with limited mobility to enter and exit the vehicle. Assistive steps install underneath the vehicle. They are also operated by a switch to extend out as needed.

5. Steering Knobs

Prior to the widespread adoption of power steering, many drivers used knobs as levers to amplify rotational force on the steering wheel. These devices are called brodie knobs or steering wheel spinners. They are also referred to by the politically incorrect term "suicide knobs". Today, state law prohibits steering wheel knobs for all but disabled drivers.

6. Pedal Controls

Pedal transfers allow drivers to control the accelerator pedal with their left foot. This is suitable for individuals who retain normal use of one leg. Paraplegics can use mechanical hand controls. These allow the driver to control the gas by pushing in one direction, and control the brake by pushing in a perpendicular direction. These controls can only be installed on vehicles with automatic transmissions, power brakes, and power steering.

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