Specialised car controls

Man in a Ford car with hand controls on the steering wheel

Until self-driving cars become a reality, cars will still need to be adapted for disabled drivers

Despite technological advances in almost every aspect of motoring, the majority of controls look and work much the same as they did ten years ago. It can be difficult to know where to start if you need to adapt your car.

There are  three questions that can help you if you are thinking about getting specialised controls for your car.

What are my abilities?

There is no hard and fast rule and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all; but if you have driven before, you need to consider how your disability or impairment may have affected your ability to drive and what aspects of driving you may now find difficult.

If you've never driven but want to, we recommend the first thing you do is speak to your local mobility centre. They'll provide an independent, professional, assessment and advice service. They can also carry out an assessment to see what equipment may suit you, helping you decide what controls to consider – with a chance to try them out, either on a test rig or in a real vehicle. Assessments can vary in cost from £50 to £90.

What types of adaptation do I need?

There are two categories of adaptations.

Primary adaptations deal with acceleration, braking, and steering. These can be added to both manual and automatic cars.

Secondary adaptations control functions like wipers, indicators, and headlights. These functions can be accessed by touch screen or voice. They can also be converted to foot and other switches.

Adaptations range from very simple bolt-on attachments to the replacement of all the driving controls with a system individually designed for you. As long as you've enough controllable movement in any part of your body, controls can be adapted to take advantage of it.

Motability has produced some useful videos and guidance on different types of car controls.

Should I keep my car or buy a new one?

Most simple adaptations can be easily fitted to any car, so you might not need to get a new one. If you already have a car and are newly disabled it's important to weigh up the pros and cons of keeping your car or getting a new one.

Some advantages to keeping your car are that it's likely to be cheaper, it's familiar, and it may have features you like.

Some of the disadvantages are that newer cars may have useful standard features or other options; you can choose a car that is easier to adapt; and you may get financial help or VAT exemption on a new car.

Check that your car, or the car you plan to get, can be fitted with the adaptations that you want. Don't buy or lease a car until you've checked with the car adaptation supplier and fitter that this can be done.

Once you're clear about your abilities, what sort of adaption might help, and whether you should change your existing car or get a new one, what should you do next?

The best advice, we think, comes from other disabled drivers we have spoken to. They say:

You are the expert about your own abilities, but advice from those who know about car controls is really important.

  • Be honest. Get an assessment at a time when you're least able, at the end of the day, or when you feel tired.
  • Make sure any adaptation will be what you'll need for the period of time you have the vehicle, and if your condition worsens.
  • Make sure everyone listens to what you have to say and what you want, and not to what they think you should have.
  • See as many controls as you can.
  • Trying out driving controls is important. Go to a mobility centre or to Motability's One Big Day events to try off-road. Then you'll know what suits you, and your own needs and experience can guide you.
  • Think about your future abilities. Ask how adjustable the controls can be set if your strength becomes weaker.

One final thing to consider is other people who use, or might use, your car. Make sure any adaptation doesn't make it difficult for other drivers to get into and out of the car and doesn't make driving difficult or uncomfortable for them. With some push-pull systems, the steering wheel is in a fixed position.

More information

Motability Big Event and regional One Big Days

Motability's information about adaptations 

Find a specialist driving instructor for disabled people

Find your nearest mobility centre for advice and assessment