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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,
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
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
you need a van or will another passenger vehicle be sufficient?
the vehicle accommodate the necessary equipment that must be
there be enough space to fit other passengers once the vehicle is
there adequate parking space at home and at work for unloading a
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.
Issues for Cars & Drivers
Tips About Child Restraints-Part 2 -continuation of car
Tips About Child Restraints-Part 3 -final chapter of the
car seat series.
of Steering Due to a Blowout -learn these important tips
for dealing with a sudden blowout.
Driving on Flooded Roads -it's been raining for hours and
you have to drive. Read on...
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