Car modifications and resources may enable individuals with a disability to drive.
Lifts, pedals, and modified gear controls are some common modifications.
Insurance premiums for modified vehicles might be higher due to the potential cost to replace components.
There are several options available to help cover the cost of auto modifications.
Twenty-five million Americans live with a travel-limiting disability. Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that these drivers can maintain their vehicular independence. The only provision is that they are able to safely operate their vehicle with reasonable accommodations. These accommodations may include:
Here is a closer look at the types of modifications that drivers with disabilities can add to their vehicles, additional requirements that these adaptations could bring, and funding options to pay for the upgrades.
Types of Accessibility Modifications
Each accessibility feature has dual goals. First, it should allow the user to get into and out of the driver’s seat and operate the systems necessary to control the vehicle. Second, the addition must ensure that the driver can use the modifications without compromising the safety of themselves and their passengers.
Here is a look at the accessibility modifications available to drivers with disabilities and how each balances access, functionality, and safety.
People with mobility issues often consider a wheelchair lift. These systems come in two varieties.
One type lifts an occupied wheelchair into a truck or van. Battery-powered platform lifts typically handle both chair and person. These have rails and straps to secure the wheels during lifting. Such platforms require a van, full-size SUV, or another type of wheelchair-friendly vehicle.
The other type of platform or hoisting system is designed to carry unoccupied chairs. These can fit in a pickup truck bed or on the back of a standard-sized SUV or sedan. These are ideal for people with the ability to enter or exit the car via a door. The goal of these lifts is to transport the chair without requiring the user to fold and stow it each time they enter the car.
Lifts can be manual or automatic – with manual options or a backup battery in case of a power failure. Such backup systems may be required by law in some states.
Steering and Control
There are several adapted steering options for drivers with disabilities. For example, some vehicles have a steering ball. This device is a rotating, hand-size orb that allows drivers to control steering with the use of one hand. There are also enhanced power steering options that do not require as much force as factory-installed power steering.
Other modifications, such as steering via a foot wheel or joystick are also possible, depending on specific needs and abilities.
Pedal modifications allow users to brake and accelerate without using their right foot. For example, a driver can use hand controls instead of traditional pedals. There are different designs for these stop-and-go controls. Most require you to push a lever to brake. You can get horizontal or vertical controls that speed up when you pull, twist, or rock the lever.
Other modifications could include assisted power braking, pedal extenders, or left-foot pedals.
Most vehicles with accessibility modifications have automatic transmissions so that the driver does not have to worry about operating a shifter and clutch. However, there are several options for people with a manual transmission. One is to have a standard manual shifter with a hand-operated clutch. With this feature, the driver can change gears without their feet.
Other modifications can include paddle shifters. These gear controls are behind the steering wheel. There are typically two paddles, one for upshifts and one for down, and the driver can operate them without taking their hands off the wheel.
Platform lifts can help with vehicle accessibility, but you can also opt for a ramp. The advantage of a ramp is that there are fewer mechanical components. Ramps can extend automatically or manually from the side or back of a wheelchair-friendly vehicle.
There are a few varieties to consider. In-floor ramps retract under the base of the car, so they are a good option if the vehicle has non-wheelchair passengers who need easy access. Foldout ramps have joints and fold upward into the car. They may retract and extend faster, but they obstruct the vehicle so that other passengers have difficulty accessing it.
Modification Standards and Car Warranties
It’s important to ensure that the technicians handling the modification meet safety requirements and do not void the vehicle’s warranty. The ADA Act permits drivers to make reasonable modifications that allow them to drive, but warranty providers may have different rules or requirements for ensuring modifications and technicians meet standards. You can also contact a user car warranty provider or opt for an extended warranty if you plan to modify a pre-owned vehicle.
Special Insurance Policies
The ADA makes it illegal for insurers to charge drivers more for insurance based solely on their disability. However, modified vehicles may be more expensive to insure based on the replacement costs of the components and other factors.
Here is what you need to know about insurance policies for modified vehicles.
For underwriting purposes, people with disabilities must be treated like other drivers. The insurer will look at age, driving history, and other factors when coming up with coverage and premiums. The only requirement is that the driver can safely operate the vehicle after they get the necessary modifications.
Modifications create unique circumstances where drivers could have to pay more for insurance despite ADA protections. Why is this the case? The ADA does not require that insurers make premiums cheaper for drivers with disabilities. This is an important concept because insurance premiums could still be quite high for modified vehicles.
The increased rates are not because of the driver’s disability. Instead, they are due to the increased value of the vehicle and its modifications. If the car is totaled, the insurer will have to pay a full replacement cost, and this added expense will be reflected in the premium.
You can enroll in a training course to learn to safely use your new controls. Like any safe driving course, this could help lower your premiums. In some states, you may have a restricted license based on your need for specialized equipment.
Insuring Another Driver
You can list additional drivers and vehicles with your modified vehicle. Other drivers using the modified car may need additional training or a special license to operate cars with specific modifications, such as hand controls. These rules vary by state.
Resources and Grants for Modifications
Modifications for drivers with disabilities can be expensive, with some additions costing up to $80,000. However, there are several options for covering the cost of these changes. In addition to federal grants, drivers can often find state-level programs that shoulder part of the cost of accessibility updates. Medical insurers and private organizations can also help pay for modifications. Here is a closer look at these different funding sources.
US State Grants
Most government grants and financial aid for vehicle modifications come from state-level grants. These options vary by location, but typically include state veterans organizations and disability and accessibility agencies or councils.
US Federal Grants
Some federal agencies can offer support for individuals looking to cover the cost of a loan. The Veterans Administration offers tax-free funds of $22,355 for former military members in need of modified vehicles.
Finally, you may be able to get a tax deduction for the cost of your modification.
Private charities and organizations can also help with the cost of modifications. In some cases, these charities may be able to assist you in applying for grants or funding from other sources if they cannot offer financial help themselves.
Up and Coming Accessible Tech in Transportation
Several new advances could make transportation even more accessible for drivers with disabilities in the future.
Automakers and tech companies are striving to develop autonomous vehicles. The development of these systems could make it possible for anyone to enjoy personalized transportation without having to worry about having the physical ability to drive.
Online car shopping is an advance that is helping drivers with disabilities right now. You may be able to find used vehicles or factory-made modified models that already have the necessary conversions. You can order them online and use a car shipping company for delivery. The internet is also a good place to compare auto loan rates, which can help you pay the costs of the vehicle not covered by grants, insurance, or state programs.