Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Car controls

Rica's consumer information, aimed at older and disabled people, is based on independent research, the experiences of consumers and experts and is completely unbiased.

Here's an overview of the types of car controls in the UK. It can help if you're adapting an existing car, buying a car to adapt, looking for specific adaptations to suit your abilities or seeing what is possible with specialised controls.

Brig Ayd steering knobs mounted on steering wheel

In January 2017, we ran two workshops with new users of driving controls at QEF Mobility Services, Carshalton, Surrey. 
The resulting findings are presented in a research report, intended for professionals advising disabled people on their motoring choices. Go to Primary driving controls research report, 2017 (PDF) here.

There's a wide range of car adaptations available, so almost anyone can customise the controls on their car to meet their needs.

First, ask some questions:

  • What are your own abilities?
  • What types of adaptations do think you need?
  • Do you want to keep your car or buy a new one?
  • Can the adaptations be easily fitted or can the car be converted with minimal cost?   

Adaptations range from very simple bolt-on attachments to the replacement of all the driving controls with a system individually designed for you. As long as you have enough controllable movement in any part of your body, the controls can be adapted to take advantage of it.

Find out if you can get help towards the cost of equipment - see Finance

Rica's research provides:

  • product information and prices from our market research
  • a guide only - always shop around for the best price

We don't list all the companies that sell and fit adaptations to vehicles.
To find a local company to advise you on suitable equipment and fit it for you, ask the relevant supplier: see our useful contacts, which lists all suppliers and installers in the UK.

Car controls

Our information provides:

  • an overview of the main types of car controls you can get and how you can go about getting them
  • a starting point for further discussions with Mobility Centres and adaptation companies
  • a guide but won't tell you what's best for you since everyone is different
  • information only: get expert advice and, for some people, maybe an assessment of your abilities

The key thing is to find controls that suit you rather than having to adapt yourself to the controls.

Controls are likely to be more comfortable if they:

  • are within easy reach, easy to operate and designed so that using them becomes second nature with practice.
  • don't make you pull at the elbow and rotate your hand at the same time
  • let you keep your wrist straight
  • avoid twisting the wrist in uncomfortable ways
  • are large enough to hold and spread the effort over a larger part of your hand or whatever you use for the control
  • let you use your thumb (without stretching) rather than individual fingers
  • leave enough room for your hand when you are moving the control

Get expert advice

To find controls to suit you, contact:

  • your nearest Mobility Centre
  • some adaptation companies/equipment suppliers to arrange a demonstration or to find a local installer

Primary controls

Primary controls are those that you use to accelerate, brake and steer. They may be separate or combined so that a single control works more than one operation. A Mobility Centre or adaptation company will help you decide which to choose.

There are four separate sections:

Secondary controls

Secondary controls are for everything from the ignition, lights and indicators to heating, air conditioning and in-car entertainment.

Download this complete guide: Car controls (PDF). You can receive printed publications by post (UK only).
Acknowledgements: This information was produced by Rica with funding from Motability and in partnership with the Forum of Mobility Centres.

Last updated: May 2017

Next: Your abilities | See also: Motoring research portal | Primary driving controls research report