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Car controls to help people with amputations

There is a range of adaptations that make motoring easier for drivers who have had amputations. The ones that are most relevant are listed here; for further details of these and other products, please see the main guide: Car controls. Click on any of the main headings below to go directly to that section in the main guide.

Steering

To steer one-handed, you're likely to need a steering ball or spinner fitted to the steering wheel. You'll probably also want to have power-assisted steering. Both are particularly useful during parking and low-speed manoeuvres.

Spinners come in several shapes to suit different types of grip. Most cost between £30 and £110.

Some spinners can be used with an artificial limb to steady the steering wheel. Limb Centres provide arm amputees with a spinner (free of charge) that is controlled with a detachable device in their prosthesis, depending on the design of the prosthesis. 

Whether you can use a spinner with an artificial hand will depend on the level of your amputation and your type of prosthesis. Some spinners can be used with prostheses for above- or below-elbow amputation and some device options, such as cup and stem or split hook and ring. 

If you have an electrically powered prosthesis, it should be switched off when you are driving. It must not be clamped directly on to the steering wheel or spinner. Cosmetic hands can be used for steadying the wheel but not for forceful actions. The fingers should not be wrapped around the wheel rim or spinner.

Avoid adaptations that could interfere with an inflating airbag, and any that protrude and could catch your knee, seat belt or clothing. Take care that any rim-fitted device is securely clamped.

Changing gear

Most people choose an automatic transmission - which can be driven with the right or left foot. To stop the car rolling back on slopes, you need to be able to use a handbrake or have an adaptation such as brake assist.

An automatic could be all you need if your left leg is amputated or if your arm is amputated below the elbow and you drive wearing a prosthesis. Think about the condition of your other leg, as you are likely to need automatic transmission and hand controls if you have problems with ulcers, sensation or circulation.

If both your legs are amputated you will most likely need hand controls. You may have difficulty feeling floor pedals with a prosthetic foot and there is a risk of jamming it under the pedal without realising it. There may be times when your stump is too sore to wear an artificial limb.

If you cannot use a mechanical gear selector, there are systems that electrically set the gear for you, but these can be costly. It might not be worth adding them to an older vehicle. A Mobility Centre can advise you.

A manual gear stick can be extended so that it is within reach. Some cars have easy-to-use manual gears, where you can nudge the gear stick and don't have to use a clutch pedal.

Push-button clutches have a touch-sensitive switch mounted on the gear stick (around £1,800 and up). As you touch it, a motor disengages the clutch.

There are also semi-automatic clutches varying from mechanical levers to servo-assisted systems but they require manual dexterity.

If you drive an adapted manual car but your driving licence is for automatic vehicles only, you must make sure the clutch pedal is removed.

Accelerating and braking

If your right leg is amputated, consider having an automatic car and a flip-up left-foot accelerator fitted on the left side of the brake pedal for around £350. You will need training to drive this way. The original accelerator can be flipped down for conventional driving.

Hand controls

Many people find hand controls fitted on an automatic car easier to get used to. There are different types of system, which can be mechanical or electric. They vary in the amount of effort required. Have a pedal guard fitted that is easily removeable.

Combined controls

There are a number of options for devices that control both acceleration and braking:

  • steering-column-mounted controls - push a lever to brake, and pull the lever towards you to accelerate; from around £350
  • floor-mounted push-pull levers - the height, length and strength needed to operate these can be set to suit you; from around £700
  • clamp-on controls - these simply bolt on to the pedals; they can be used temporarily and cost around £350

Separate accelerators and brakes

Some motorists find it easier to drive using separate controls for accelerating and braking:

  • accelerator rings - these need less effort than a push-pull lever, and you can steer with both hands on the wheel; from around £1,500
  • hand-operated floor-mounted brakes - these cost around £350
  • custom-built accelerators - these can be worked by different parts of your body

Parking brake

Bolt-on attachments make using the parking brake easier. These include simple levers to take the effort out of pressing the release button, and handles you pull to operate the whole brake. These mostly cost from £70. An alternative is an electric brake worked by push buttons; these vary in cost, from around £750.

Secondary controls

Once you have determined which primary controls are best suited to you, you need to consider what secondary controls will make it easier to drive with an amputation. These secondary controls are used for things like lights, indicators and the horn. Simple attachments - such as extended indicator stalks - make them easier to use. For more information, see the main guide's section on secondary car controls.

Last updated: November 2012


Main page: Motoring after an amputation