Driving aids for wheelchair users

Driving aids for wheelchair users

Driving aids for wheelchair users

There once was a time that wheelchair users were considered to be infirm and incapable of participating in most daily activities. However, this stigma is slowly being broken, due in part to the many technological advances that have revolutionized the way people with disabilities and mobility concerns live their lives.

Wheelchair users are becoming more independent in a variety of areas, one of which is driving and community mobility. Individuals with a range of health concerns ranging from minor to major can now drive independently with the use of assistive devices and mobility aids. Here are some of the major driving aids that can benefit wheelchair users with a variety of needs:

Vehicle ramps

The highlight of adapted vehicles is their ability to accommodate an individual who cannot leave their wheelchair, if this is needed. While some people may be able to transfer out of their wheelchair to enter the driver’s seat of their vehicle, others are not able to do this. This makes ramps an ideal way to safely go from outside to inside the vehicle in no time.

Some individuals may be able to manually propel their wheelchair up the ramp, while others may need a pull-style ramp. These ramps have straps that are hooked up to the front of their wheelchair. When turned on, the motorized ramp then pulls the individual’s wheelchair up the incline and into the vehicle in a slow and controlled manner. Power pull ramps also have safety features including stop controls, an auto-lock clutch system, and built-in breakers to ensure individuals do not veer off course when going up the ramp. Any such ramps are a great way to safely enter an adapted van or SUV for the purpose of driving or riding as a passenger.

Pedal extensions

These simple, but useful tools afford individuals with disabilities an additional 3-5 inches on top of their gas and/or brake pedals. This is the standard specification for these tools, but individuals can seek custom-made pedal extensions if they need a more specific measurement. This is a good option for individuals of short stature, those who have poor mobility, and those with joint issues such as arthritis in their lower body. Due to the extended nature of this tool, individuals can easily rest their heel on the floor when using the gas or brake pedal. This alleviates pressure and strain while reducing pain, stiffness, and discomfort for a range of individuals. Pedal extensions can also come in handy for individuals who use their wheelchairs to drive and cannot achieve a seated position closer to the foot pedals.


Individuals of all abilities frequently struggle with getting in and out of the car. A cushioned handle mounted on the side of the steering wheel allows individuals to seamlessly transfer from a wheelchair to the driver’s seat or to go from standing to seated in the vehicle. Rather than utilizing the sometimes awkwardly-placed handlebars within the vehicle, a tool such as a handybar will ensure for your safe transition in and out of the vehicle.

Wireless reverse backup camera (or sensors)

While many newer vehicles come with pre-installed backup cameras, not everyone has the luxury of having a newer car. This wireless backup camera can easily be installed in the auxiliary plug for easy awareness of what is around you. Individuals will benefit from visual and audio input to let them know more about their surroundings. Most of these cameras offer at least a 110° view with adequate brightness to ensure they are as safe as possible. This is an ideal piece of equipment for someone with decreased range of motion or pain in the upper back or neck pain. In order to safely drive, individuals should be able to manually check their blind spots. However, this can offload some of the discomfort that may result from consistently rotating your torso and checking behind your vehicle.

Individuals who would prefer a more basic version of the backup camera can opt for wireless backup sensors. These are a good fit for individuals who are somewhat hard-of-hearing and may want a loud, auditory reminder when someone or something enters the rear area of their vehicle when they are backing up.

Electric parking brake

Individuals with poor strength, range of motion, or arthritis in the hand would benefit from an electric parking brake. This helps individuals compensate for poor grip strength and the difficulty they may have manipulating and using force to engage this brake.

Spinner knobs and steering aids

There are a variety of knobs that also assist with poor grip strength that may cause difficulty steering. Spinner knobs can be used to rotate the steering wheel, especially for individuals who have poor motion and strength in the thumb. Additionally, tri-pin steering aids have three handles that can be operated with one hand to safely turn the steering wheel. Individuals in similar situations may also like the single-pin steering aid that only had one handle. An amputee ring is an ideal choice for individuals with prosthetic arms that may have trouble with the finer motions needed to turn the steering wheel. This ring allows individuals to hook their device into a hole and turn as needed.

Zero-Effort Steering

Individuals who don’t have enough strength to use other types of steering aids or the standard steering wheel may benefit from zero-effort steering options. This places less stress and strain on individuals and allows them to use the standard steering wheel with much less effort on their part. Rather than the 40 ounces of effort required by standard steering wheels, a zero-effort steering system allows individuals to use about half that force (20 ounces of pressure) or even less, standing at around 8 ounces.

Left foot accelerator

Left foot accelerators allow individuals with a right foot that has little to no range of motion, strength, and coordination to continue using foot pedals with their right foot.

Push/pull hand controls

Individuals who do not have functional use of their lower body and cannot manipulate foot pedals may benefit from hand controls for acceleration and braking. Individuals can use handheld metal levers that activate the brakes when pulled and activate the accelerator when pushed. Individuals can pair these hand controls with a pedal block to ensure they do not accidentally press or slip their foot under any pedals when driving.

Extension controls

There are a variety of extension controls that accommodate individuals with shorter limbs, either from short stature, amputations, or other injuries. Extension controls are available for features such as gear shifters, the steering wheel, turn signal, parking brake, and more.

Wheelchair users and those with general mobility concerns have a variety of options to take advantage of in the realm of driving. From hand controls, lever extenders, rearview cameras, and more, individuals can remain independent in a way that meets their specific needs. Individuals who want assistance in finding the tools that can best assist them in driving should consult a certified driving rehabilitation specialist (CDRS), occupational therapist, or physical therapist. These professionals, in addition to mobility consultants, can best help wheelchair users learn to use their new vehicle and all its features.

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