The road to normalcy after an accident or living with a disability or disabling illness can be long and hard, especially if it means no longer being safe or comfortable behind the wheel. This loss of mobility can be devastating, especially for older drivers. Having to rely on others to make therapy appointments, shop for groceries, have a healthy social life or hold down a job is a burden to bear. Whether your disability is temporary or permanent, new and existing adaptive technologies are broadening opportunities to help you regain some of your independence.
If the need for adjustments exists, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, recommends first finding a driver rehabilitation specialist to perform an evaluation of the adaptive equipment that best suits your medical condition and personal needs. Referrals can be made by a physician, medial specialist or occupational therapist. The specialist will do a complete physical evaluation of the driver, including muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, coordination, decision-making abilities, reaction time, vision and more, and then make vehicle modification recommendations.
Some street vehicles can be adapted, common recommendations being a swivel driver's seat, an automatic transmission, a wheelchair lift, recessed seat belts, strategic hand grips or hand controls for brakes and gas. All modifications must pass federal and state laws.
In other cases, purchasing a fully modified vehicle is necessary. If possible, drivers should take a vehicle out for a test drive to check comfort, ease of operation and visibility. They should also consider: Is there enough cargo space to accommodate medical equipment and/or other passengers? Is there adequate parking space at work and home for loading and unloading? What other options are necessary to make this vehicle the best choice?
One additional area of discomfort regarding these modifications is cost. The NHTSA recommends exploring the following options for possible assistance in footing the bill:
--Automotive insurance companies.
--Vehicle manufactures, most of which offer rebates on equipment.
--National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.
--Many states waive sales tax for adaptive devices with a doctor's prescription.
--Adaptive equipment may be tax-deductible.
Drivers, both new and experienced, must be trained to safely operate new equipment. Visit the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists website to find a local provider. The Adaptive Driving Alliance, a nationwide group of wheelchair-accessible vehicle dealers, explains that once trained, drivers will need to take a driver's test using the modified vehicle. Each state has its own requirements for drivers with disabilities. Be sure to check with the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state to know how to properly register your vehicle and complete any other necessary steps.
Though adaptive driving takes an investment of time, resources and money, it can ensure freedom and new possibilities for those with disabilities, letting them live their life by their own design.