Driving with a disability

Graeme Turner
Cars can be modified to enable many people with a disability to drive. People can drive without using their feet. Other modifications let people with limited movement to drive. Rosslyn Pickhaver is President of the Disabled Motorists Association. Rosslyn says driving provides many people with independence. Changes to a car can be made to suit individual needs. But modern cars can be difficult to change. Modifications can be expensive. Rosslyn encourages people not to give up hope if they want to drive.
Posted by: 
Graeme Turner on 19/07/2011
A close up image of a car dashboard with a driver's hand on the steering wheel and another hand on a lever next to the wheel.

Modifications can let people with a disability drive without using their feet

Engineers have been developing techniques to allow drivers with disabilities to safely operate vehicles for decades. Often the modifications let people drive without using their feet. Other modifications can let people with limited limb movement drive.

As cars become increasingly modern, so do the modifications. We would have to put out a mechanical hand to indicate right-hand turns or stopping, recalls Rosslyn Pickhaver. Rosslyn is President of the Disabled Motorists Association. She has seen great improvements to technology over the years.

Opened up possibilities

Driving provides many people with independence, says Rosslyn. It's opened up real possibilities, she enthuses. Many people in regional Victoria particularly rely on their cars.

Rosslyn remembers using the early Ross system of controlling a car. The driver would raise a lever to accelerate and push it down to brake. But Ross controls had to be replaced because they did not conform to increasingly demanding Australian standards.

Fortunately, Rosslyn much prefers her new system. She pulls the control towards to increase speed. She pushes away to brake. It's less tiring than trying to hold your arm up, Rosslyn says.

Many different options

Specialist modification companies offer many different options to assist drivers with a disability. There are devices which allow the driver to depress or twist a lever in order to accelerate. Keypad controls are also a boon to many drivers. They give fingertip control over equipment like windscreen wipers and headlights. Cars or vans can also be modified to accommodate people with motorised wheelchairs behind the wheel.

Modifications can be expensive. The growing complexity of modern cars poses increasing challenges, according to expert Frank Parisi. We basically have to change these vehicles to suit each client, says Frank.

Another challenge is that modifications that are legal in one state of Australia might not be legal in another. Rosslyn hopes a consistent national standard for vehicle modifications can be introduced.

Community attitudes

Rosslyn says community attitudes towards people with a disability driving cars could also improve. She says that in the 1950s, many people were opposed to the idea of people with a disability handling cars. She recounts a story of three women with disabilities who broke down while on their way to an RACV meeting. Motorists failed to stop to assist. Some passers-by even ridiculed the idea of drivers with disability being on the road.

Rosslyn has also had a bad experience more recently when her car's brakes failed. Her car ran into the back of the car in front. The other driver's reaction when they discovered Rosslyn used hand controls was disappointing. What offended me about that was she would assume that being a disabled driver using adaptations you'd be less capable, Rosslyn says.

Don't give up

But Rossyn is very encouraging to anyone with a disability who wants to drive. She recommends that people's capability to handle a car is assessed.

Don't give up hope, she says. Make sure you look at your own situation very carefully. Rosslyn says there are many different types of modifications available.


Do you drive a modified car? What have been some of your driving experiences? Let us know in the comments section below.

Readers comments (6)

This is reassuring news to me. I am considering getting my licence back after not driving for twenty years. driving again is going to take some getting used to as i have lost a foot as well. There are people out there dealing with far more difficult circumstances than me.

Hi Rosslyn,

It is Pauline here, one of your ex-students. Do you remember some of the students also making the assumption that you were 'one of us'; fellow student? So funny to think of that now.

I am really sorry to hear about that appalling assumption that your hand controls meant you were a less capable driver than anybody else. I remember many years ago, (28 yrs to be exact), when I first mentioned wanting to go for my learners, my sister making a comment like 'you can't drive'. In fairness to her, I think she was more talking 'big sister' talk.

Being able to drive a car was so important to me, as it meant my independence wasn't compromised as my feet blister from walking.

I am about to get some alterations to my car from Frank's Engineering.

Regards Pauline

as a person with a disability who has just gone for [ an passed ] her learners test being able to learn to drive is one of the first things that i can do that is making me feel equal with my girl friends at school the fact , i can not walk is now less of an issue for me now than in any other time in my life for the first time ever i now feel on equal terms with all my friends an family
regards lilly

I have a disability and as a result need to alter the controls on my car to either Ross Controls or to put the accelerator on the left hand side of the brake. Can you advise as to where I can get this done at the minimal cost if anything before I hae to have Vic roads ban me from driving?

Hi David,

I know you probably don't need it anymore, but this is my first visit to this site. In case you still do, or for anyone else that stumbles across this, I can highly recommend Franks Engineering in Coburg North. He recently did a left foot accelerator for me and charged less than half what other places quoted. Not only that but there was no mucking around and it was done on time too.

All the best......Chris.

I have disability on my rightside both leg and hand, i thinking of buying an automatic car with indicators on my left. i can use my left to apply brake but i can't accelarator. What controls mechinism can i put in car to enable to drive?


Comment on this article