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Modified Vehicles for the Impaired Driver

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In 1990 Congress passed the American With Disablilites Act eliminating employment and recreational obstacles to many Americans with some form of physical disability. Many individuals with disabilities need specific types of modifications or adaptive equipment added to their motor vehicles to meet their transportation needs, and the number persons using adapted vehicles has also increased. The 1990 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS-D) estimated 299,000 adaptive equipment users, while the 1994 and 1995 NHIS-D estimated 510,000, an increase of 211,000 users over a five-year period.

Many of us without physical disabilities at times take driving a motor vehicle for granted. Those who do have some form of disability are often able to resume driving activities with modifications to their vehicles. These modifications often include hand controls; wheelchair securement; automatic door opener; steering control device; lift; dropped floor; Modified safety belts; Power seat base; Ramp; Modified switch/touch pads; Wheelchair/scooter hoists; Can be driven from wheelchair; Raised roof; Low effort steering; Low effort braking; Remote ignition; Zero-effort steering; Electronic gas/brake; Left foot accelerator.

In terms of the number of vehicles modified for persons with disabilities, in December of 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated the number of modified vehicles at 383,000. The number of vehicles with adaptive equipment is expected to continue to increase as the U.S. population ages and as access to employment, travel, and recreation continues to improve for persons with disabilities, as a result of the ADA.

It is important to remember that while many vehicles with these modifications are marked with either handicap license plates or tags hanging from the rearview mirror, many are not. In addition we must be aware that the drivers reaction times and driving perceptions will be different from those without any form of physical disability.

Being alert not only to road conditions, weather, and the operation of your vehicle but anticipating what other drivers, especially those who might be impaired in some form is important to safe vehicle operation. Anticipating and reacting appropriately to these conditions will ensure not only your safety but the other motorists as well.

*Statistical information for this piece was obtained from the United States Department of Transportation.