Adapting a vehicle for disability

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If you have a physical disability or you’re caring for someone who has difficulties with mobility, there are plenty of user-friendly vehicles and hundreds of adaptations available to help you.

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Having a vehicle that’s been modified for your disability requirements can make a big difference to getting out and about. There are several solutions to help disabled people drive and travel safely and comfortably, from adding simple modifications to standard cars and vans to choosing from a wide range of specially converted vehicles.
If you’re considering modifications to your car or buying an adapted vehicle, our guide will help you get up to speed on what you’ll need to know and think about.

What modifications are available for disabled drivers?

Almost any car can be modified whether you have limitations in your upper body, lower body, or both, including: 

  • Modified hand controls if you struggle operating standard foot pedals
  • Push and pull devices can be used for braking and acceleration
  • Zero effort electronic controls and hydraulic joysticks are another option
  • A steering wheel ball can be attached and is often essential when hand controls are fitted, so you can control the car with one hand while steering with the other

Pedal modifications are another way the driving mechanics can be altered to suit your needs. For example, you could have a left pedal accelerator installed to help if you have limited mobility in your right leg. Adjustable pedals are also available, which can be extended to bring them closer to the driving seat. 

Adapting a vehicle for a wheelchair

A wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) is a specially-converted vehicle that allows a driver or passenger to have easy access and safe travel while seated in their wheelchair. Adaptations can include:

  • An automatic ramp or lift to give access from the side or back 
  • Lowered floor to give extra headroom
  • Automatic wheelchair loading system

As WAVs can require the removal of passenger seats to accommodate a wheelchair, they’re often larger vehicles such as automatic vans and MPVs. 
For wheelchair users who can transfer between wheelchair and car seat, you may find a standard car fitted with modifications to be a better and cheaper alternative to a WAV. 

When thinking about driving modifications, it’s worth noting they’ll nearly always require an automatic gearbox. 

If you’re thinking about getting a new vehicle, check out our guides to the 10 best automatic vans and the best cheap automatic cars for some inspiration. 

Whichever vehicle you choose, remember to keep it in tip-top condition with regular maintenance.

Should I keep my car or buy a new one?

This all depends on what changes you need to make. Often, having driving aids means you can still take to the road in the car you love, gearing it towards your needs with a few simple modifications. 

And customising your own car can often be cheaper than buying a new vehicle.
More complex adaptations are likely to be pricier as they’ll require specialist suppliers and fitters. Choosing a new car that is easier to adapt will help keep costs down. 

Alternatively, you can purchase a WAV which, although more expensive, can be entirely tailored to your needs. It’s best to do your research and seek expert advice on what will suit you best.

Car insurance and disability modifications

As with any vehicle modifications, it’s important to tell your insurer about them in advance to make sure you’re properly covered. For more tips, take a look at our guide on what you need to tell your vehicle insurer.

Depending on your vehicle type and size, you’ll need either car insurance or van insurance.  

Admiral has several types of cover available, from single car insurance to MultiCover, where you can combine your car or van with your home insurance to get a discount. 

Driving with a disability in the UK

If you have a physical disability and want to drive in the UK, you’ll need to have a driving licence and comply with the medical standards of fitness required to drive. 

You must let the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) know about any medical condition or disability that may affect your driving. Similarly, if an accident or illness has left you with a physical impairment or disability, the DVLA will need to assess your condition.
If you want to find out more about driving with a disability, you can get help from Driving Mobility. This is a charity providing a network of centres that can assess your driving requirements and give you impartial advice and information. 

And if you’d like to learn to drive, the Association of Disability Driving Instructors can help you find your nearest specialist instructor.

Disability is no barrier to mobility on the road

There are hundreds of vehicle adaptations available to help with physical limitations, all designed to make your journey an inclusive one.
To find the best solution for your lifestyle, it’s advisable to do your research, seek expert advice and try options out before you decide. 

This way you’ll find the right features and equipment that will set you and your family on the road to easier driving, more comfortable travel and increased freedom and independence.

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