Modifying a car for a disabled driver

Adapting a car for a disabled motorist can make a big difference to how they get around. If you have a disability, or you’re a carer for someone with mobility issues, our handy guide will help you get up-to-speed on modified cars for disabled drivers.

Adapting a car for a disabled motorist can make a big difference to how they get around. If you have a disability, or you’re a carer for someone with mobility issues, our handy guide will help you get up-to-speed on modified cars for disabled drivers.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
minute read
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Posted 14 JULY 2021

How can I modify my car for a disabled driver?

Nearly any car can be modified to make driving safe and comfortable for a disabled person, and also to make getting in and out of the car easier.

In most cases, the original controls can still be used with the adaptations in place, so other nominated drivers can use the car at other times. But bear in mind that almost all adapted cars for disabled drivers will need to have an automatic gearbox.

Adapting a car for upper-body disabilities

If you've lost the use of one arm or have limited arm strength, adaptations could include:

  • fitting a steering wheel ball or joystick to help you turn the wheel more easily
  • mounting a touchpad near the steering wheel to operate the indicators, windscreen wipers and headlights
  • moving the handbrake to the right of the driver's seat

If you've lost the use of both arms, you could try a foot-operated steering wheel.

Adapting a vehicle for lower body disabilities

If you've lost the use of one of your legs or have reduced leg strength, adaptations could include:

  • moving the accelerator pedal to the left side of the brake
  • fitting an electronic accelerator behind the steering wheel
  • adjusting the pedals to bring them closer to the driver’s seat

If you've lost the use of both legs, you could use hand controls instead of standard foot pedals.

How can I adapt my vehicle for a wheelchair?

Some wheelchair users will find getting in and out of a vehicle difficult. Having a car with easy access for disabled drivers can make life a lot easier. For wheelchair users who can move between their wheelchair and a car seat, modifications could include:

  • a transfer plate, which provides a smooth surface between the wheelchair and the car seat
  • a person hoist, which physically lifts you in and out of the car
  • a swivel seat, which makes it easier to move from the car to your wheelchair

Another option is a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV). This is a specially converted vehicle that allows a wheelchair user to travel as a driver or passenger while seated in the wheelchair. WAVs are often larger vehicles, such as MPVs, because the seats have to be removed to accommodate the wheelchair. Adaptations can include:

  • an automatic ramp or lift to give you access to the car from the back or side
  • a lowered floor to give you extra headroom
  • an automatic wheelchair loading system

Is it better to buy a new car or keep and modify my current car?

This largely depends on the type of changes you need to make. In many cases, a few simple car mobility aids will allow you to keep the vehicle you feel most comfortable driving. Not only that, but customising your own car can often be cheaper than buying a new one.

More complex disability aids will need to be fitted by a specialist supplier, which is likely to make them expensive. In this case, it might be more cost-effective to choose a new car that’s easier to adapt. Alternatively, you can buy a WAV. While it won’t be cheap, it can be tailored to exactly how you want it.

Before you fit any modifications, it’s a good idea to seek expert advice to make sure you get the best adaptations for your needs. Whichever vehicle you choose, remember to keep it in tip-top condition with regular servicing and maintenance.

In the not-too-distant future, driverless cars could transform the lives of disabled people, giving many more a new-found sense of independence.

Can I get car insurance for a car with disability modifications?

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 makes it an offence for insurance providers to refuse cover on the grounds of disability, or to discriminate by charging higher prices to drivers with disabilities.

But if you’re making vehicle modifications, be sure to tell your insurance provider about them beforehand so you’ll be fully covered. You may also need to ask things like whether a modified courtesy car will be provided if you have an accident, and whether any carers can be added to the policy as named drivers.

Here at Compare the Market, we can help you compare disability car insurance to find a great-value deal.

What are the laws about driving with a disability?

You’ll need a valid driving licence to legally drive in the UK, and you must comply with the medical standards of fitness to drive.

You should let the DVLA know about any disability or medical condition that might affect your driving. You will also need to be assessed if an accident or illness has left you with a physical impairment or disability. The DVLA will be able to tell you if you need to adapt your car by fitting special controls.

You can get an independent assessment of your driving needs from government-backed charity Driving Mobility, which provides a network of centres throughout the UK.

Frequently asked questions

Can you drive with a prosthetic leg?

It depends on the individual, of course, but with a bit of practise and a few simple adaptations, there’s no reason why you can’t drive with a prosthetic leg.

As with any disability or medical condition that may affect your ability to drive, you must tell the DVLA if you’ve had a limb amputated. You might be issued with a licence to drive an automatic vehicle or a car with specialist controls, but you’ll only be refused a licence in extreme cases.

What is Motability?

The Motability Scheme allows disabled people to lease a new car using their mobility allowance. This can help you get mobile if you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access a set of wheels. You can also lease a scooter, powered wheelchair or wheelchair-accessible vehicle. A large range of adaptations are available at low or no extra cost when fitted at the start of your lease.

Can you buy a pre-modified car for a disabled driver?

Yes, it’s possible to buy a car that’s specially designed for a disabled driver. Disability car suppliers offer standard-type cars that have been adapted for disabled drivers, along with a range of mobility cars, MPVs and minibuses specially converted to make them fully wheelchair accessible.

Nowadays you can even hire a disabled vehicle, perhaps if you’re planning a holiday or visiting relatives, or you want to take a disabled person for a day out somewhere.

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