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.
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.