Driving a car is an essential part of independence and mobility for many people. But for those without the use of their legs, the standard gas and brake pedals can pose a challenge. Thankfully, advances in adaptive technology have made driving possible for leg amputees and those with paralysis or other conditions affecting leg mobility.
The most common solution is the use of hand controls, which allow acceleration and braking to be performed with the hands instead of the feet. There are several types of hand controls available:
- Push/pull hand controls – A handle or lever is installed near the steering wheel that is pushed to accelerate and pulled to brake.
- Foot pedal extensions – The gas and brake pedals are extended and outfitted with handles that can be pushed or pulled.
- Paddle controls – Paddles mounted behind the steering wheel are used, with one paddle to accelerate and the other to brake.
Hand controls can be permanent fixtures or temporary add-ons. They may be mechanical or electronic. Drivers can get a prescription from their doctor for hand controls and work with a specialty vendor to install the proper equipment in their vehicle.
Left Foot Gas Pedals
For those with use of one leg, a left foot gas pedal allows the driver to use their left foot to accelerate. This leaves the right leg free to operate the brake pedal. Some vehicles come with left foot gas pedals from the factory, but aftermarket pedals can also be installed.
Reduced Effort Steering and Braking
Power steering and power brakes reduce the amount of effort required to steer and stop a vehicle. This assists drivers without leg control by making it easier to operate the vehicle safely with just the upper body and hands.
Other Adaptive Equipment
In addition to modifications for accelerating and braking, other types of equipment can make vehicles accessible for drivers without leg function:
- Swing-out swivel seats – Rotates the driver’s seat to make entering and exiting easier.
- Chair lifts/ramps – Allow wheelchairs and scooters to roll right into the vehicle.
- Hands-free electronics – Enable control of signals, lights, horn etc. without leg use.
- Remote ignition systems – Start the vehicle without using a key.
Training for New Drivers
Learning to drive with hand controls instead of foot pedals requires training and practice. New drivers should seek an instructor experienced in teaching adaptive driving techniques. They will learn how to smoothly accelerate, brake, steer, and perform maneuvers using only their hands in a safe manner.
Requirements for receiving a driver’s license with adaptive equipment varies by state. Most states require a doctor’s prescription and proof of completion of driver training. Some may require passing a road test with the adaptive equipment to demonstrate proficiency.
To legally drive a vehicle modified with hand controls, left foot gas pedals, or other adaptive devices, the changes must be registered with the state motor vehicle department. This often requires inspection and certification from the company that performed the equipment installation.
Cars with factory installed hand controls are available from some manufacturers. Toyota, Ford and Fiat Chrysler offer certain models already outfitted with adaptive equipment at the dealer. Converting a standard vehicle typically costs $1,000-$5,000 depending on the equipment needed.
The ability to transport oneself and get around town is vital for people with disabilities to maintain independence in all areas of life. Advances in vehicle adaptive technology have expanded transportation options dramatically in recent decades. With proper modifications and training, those without use of their legs can safely take the wheel and retain the mobility that driving provides.
Cost of Adaptive Driving Equipment
The cost of installing adaptive driving equipment can range from a few hundred dollars for a basic addon up to several thousand for a more comprehensive conversion. Here are some typical price ranges:
|Type of Equipment
|Push/pull hand controls
|$200 – $800
|Left foot accelerator
|$300 – $600
|$75 – $300
|$800 – $2500
|$1000 – $1500
|$2500 – $5000
|Electronic equipment (signals, ignition, etc)
|$600 – $2000
Some factors impacting the overall cost include the make and model of vehicle, labor rates to install equipment, and the driver’s specific needs. Getting quotes from several vendors is recommended.
Maintenance of Adaptive Driving Equipment
Like any vehicle technology, adaptive driving equipment requires periodic maintenance to keep it functioning properly. Here are some tips to ensure safe operation:
- Inspect hand controls and pedal extenders for signs of wear. Replace bushings, grips, or pads as needed.
- Check cables for kinks or fraying. Replace damaged cables immediately.
- Confirm handles and releases are engaging smoothly and have proper resistance.
- Inspect ramps/lifts for any cracks, fluid leaks, or loose hardware.
- Make sure electronic components have tight connections with no corrosion.
- Test modified electronics regularly such as remote start and back up camera.
- Consult the equipment manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines.
- Have a professional mechanic service any issues – do not attempt to fix adaptive equipment on your own.
Performing routine inspections and maintenance will ensure maximum safety and reliability of driving aids.
Challenges of Driving Without Legs
Though vehicle modifications enable driving without leg function, some unique challenges remain:
- Getting in/out of vehicle – Swivel seats and transfer boards can help make vehicle access easier.
- Reaching pedals – Pedal extenders may be needed so hands can reach equipment.
- Pressing heavy pedals – Power brakes and reduced effort steering can compensate.
- Responding quickly – Advanced training helps with reflexes using hand controls.
- Performing routine tasks like pumping gas – Attendants and asking for assistance is often necessary.
- Loading wheelchairs/scooters – Lifts and ramps are extremely helpful to self-load mobility devices.
While challenges exist, they can be largely overcome with proper vehicle modifications and driver training.
New Advancements Help Expand Driving Options
Researchers and vehicle manufacturers continue expanding mobility options for disabled drivers through new technologies like:
- Steering wheel mounted accelerator rings and brake levers
- Self-driving cars controlled through voice commands or other interfaces
- Brain-controlled systems operated by driver’s thoughts
- Improved wheelchair loading/securing mechanisms
- Driver assistive features like collision warning and automatic emergency braking
With automakers and tech companies investing in inclusive design, expect to see even more innovative accommodations for drivers with disabilities in the future.
Driving enables freedom and autonomy for everyone, regardless of physical limitations. Thanks to adaptive driving equipment like hand controls, pedal extensions, and left foot accelerators, people without use of their legs can safely operate modified vehicles. With training and practice, driving without leg function can become second nature. Continuing innovation promises even more transportation options on the horizon for disabled drivers seeking to retain independence and mobility.