Hand controls for driving?
August 5, 2009 10:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I get started adapting my car for hand controls?

So, I crashed my car yesterday(just me, into a parking garage barrier, no injuries thankfully), and realize that I can no longer drive. Well, using my feet at least. Neuropathy has made it so I can't reliably find the brake, so I won't drive.

But I know that wheelchair bound people drive and use hand controls, so maybe that will work for me as well, but I know nothing about it. Can my Honda Element be adapted or are certain cars better for this than others? Are there any registration issues (I live in MA)? If anyone has done it, is it difficult to learn? Any other things I should know about it? I hate the thought of losing my ability to drive, so I appreciate any and all help you all can give.
posted by genefinder to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My mom, while she could still drive, had hand controls installed in a conversion van with a wheelchair ramp. There are plenty of places that will install them for you either in your current car.

Basically, it was a suicide knob on the wheel and then a handle that you pushed for gas and twisted to brake. As long as there is enough room under the steering column (which should be fine with an Element) I don't see a problem with installation.

It was also incredibly easy to learn and use. The suicide knob makes turning easy and using your right hand to control acceleration is simple, it only too me a few drives to feel comfortable using the controls on a highway.

Go for it!
posted by Loto at 10:42 AM on August 5, 2009

There's a good account here of someone learning to drive using hand controls.
posted by splice at 10:44 AM on August 5, 2009

This government site (I assume you are in the US) looks like a good place to start. If you are near any facility that specializes in spinal cord injuries (such as this one), they are also very experienced in this sort of thing.
posted by TedW at 11:09 AM on August 5, 2009

You sound like one of my consumers. ;-)

First, I'd speak with my doctor, because there's a good chance that you might be able to get medicaid to pay for some or all of the modification, if that's an issue for you. They should also be able to refer you to a durable medical goods shop who can perform the modification for you.

Basically any car can be modified. The question is whether it's what you REALLY need, or if you should be looking at alternatives.

Either of these people/groups should be able to then point you in the direction of learning to use the controls.
posted by TomMelee at 11:09 AM on August 5, 2009

I have friends who had two family cars, one with hand controls and one without ; my friend who was not the one who needed the hand-controlled car was perfectly fine driving it as well. Which is to say that while there's a bit of a learning curve, it's not terribly bad. Honda's even had some experience modifying an Element to have hand controls so this is not at all an out there request.
posted by jessamyn at 11:19 AM on August 5, 2009

Go to this link to see a Honda Element with ramp, etc. Hand controls can be installed.
You could search for a MITS dealer (Mobility Independent Transportation System, Inc) in your area or nearby. They are handicapped vehicle specialists. We happen to have a Dodge van with ramp, etc.

posted by JayRwv at 11:53 AM on August 5, 2009

I would start at your doctor, if he/she doesn't know anything about it, they may be able to refer you to a PT who should be able to get you going and tell you about the possibility of insurance reimbursement. (Basically, you need a scrip for it from a doctor or PT to get reimbursed.)

Then, there are several places you could go. A magazine like New Mobility or website like disaboom have classified ads that sell them. AbleData is another site that can show you what is available.

Most major cities have a company or two that specializes in disability conversions on vehicles. For example, in Portland, we have one called Performance Mobility. They can set you up with what you need, and possibly help you get an idea if insurance will cover it.

My partner is a quad, and his hand controls costs around $500 (IIRC). They literally bolt down to the gas and break pedals and then through a lever system control the pedals with a hand control (forward for gas/down for break). A non disabled person can still drive this car with the pedals and their feet. They will work on any car, although you need to get the size right for you and for how you sit in the car. But there is no car that they can't be installed on to my knowledge. They only take 15 or 20 minutes to install, and are easy to learn how to use.

I would practice in a safe place first (open parking lot, country road, etc.) until you get the hang of it. But it is not hard to adapt to at all.
posted by Bueller at 12:10 PM on August 5, 2009

Aftermarket or another brand of vehicle- most Japanese manufactures have rather limited support for disabled drivers (giving away 1 car doesn't cut it). Ford has a program called Mobility Motoring where they will provide up to 1200 on a new Ford to adapt it for disabled needs. GM also has a program and they hand out 1000 and provide onstar for free for a couple of years. Notify your insurance and you may have to take lessons or a driving test depending upon where you live. Cudos for being pro-active about it.
posted by zenon at 2:02 PM on August 5, 2009

zenon: I have an adapted Toyota, and I believe their program provides $1000 or so - pretty close to what you cite for Ford and GM.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:19 PM on August 5, 2009

I stand corrected: here is Toyota's program which they apparently started back in 2001, so kudos to them. Honda report that they also have a program here in the US, but personal experience in Canada puts Honda firmly in the "screw 'em" category.

Here is the perhaps the most comprehensive list of current auto mobility programs with links on the internet (sadly).

The Best:
Apparently BMW will reimburse the entire cost of assistive devices on a new vehicle: or at least that is the impression I get from this particular dealer.

The Pack:
Most manufacturers appear to have a program to reimburse up to a 1000 dollars of eligible expenses:

GM Hell, they even have a full website - www.gmmobility.com. In my personal experience ties with Ford for best program in Canada, and both companies include an extra $200 for particular types of adaptive products. Saab in 2007 joined the mobility program at GM, and of course which ever of these end up surviving: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Pontiac, and Saturn are also part of the program.

Ford - again, they provide a great deal of info & in my experience dealers are well versed with the details of the program. Volvo and Jaguar: Essentially the same as the Ford program, of course the cars are a little different.


Hyundai Mobility Program

Toyota and Lexus

Honda and Acura although, as I previously mentioned, it appears that many devices are not accepted like this one for the official Honda program. Honda doesn't even provide the extra little adaptor for extending the seatbelt in the US. Big people in Canada: no problem - folks in the States - buy a Toyota. (Why are you a jerk Honda? The cars aren't jerks, my family has had a bunch of them, but man, try not to be those guys, ok? I just don't get it.)

Subaru Mobil-it-Ease Program only offers $500. Still, that's more than Nissan or anything officially mentioned by Mercedes.

The Laggards:
Volkswagen "Mobility Access Program" has NO website! Apparently Volkswagen will also refund $1000 on the purchase or lease of a new VW vehicle but you'll have to call for more details. NOTE: http://www.vwmobility.com/ is not part of VW.

No discernable program in the US:
Suzuki, Mercedes, Nissan (has UK program), Audi (reportedly has a program but like VW no website or even details).
Mazda has no info on their corporate site but individual dealers have info in what appears to be Canada only program - example
which offers $750.
posted by zenon at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

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