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Motoring with cerebral palsy

This guide will help people with cerebral palsy to choose a car with built-in features that will be easier to use, and outlines some of the key things to consider when adapting a car. It also directs you to the sections of our website that have detailed information about specialist products and techniques to overcome whatever physical disabilities you may have.

You can also download this as a complete guide: Motoring with cerebral palsy (PDF). Or you can receive printed publications by post (UK only).

Acknowledgements: This guide was produced by Rica with funding from Motability and in partnership with the Forum of Mobility Centres and Scope.

Introduction

You'll be able to use a car and probably drive it too if you have cerebral palsy, whether the effects are mild or severe. Having a car means you can be independent and travel to work, shops and leisure activities when you please. A car is one of the most expensive items you are likely to buy, so it is important to choose one that is going to suit you for some years. 

Below, we give details of how cerebral palsy might affect your driving and what you can do to meet these challenges, as well as legal and insurance requirements you need to know about.

More detailed information on choosing, adapting and using a car can be found in the following guides. We note below which parts are of specific interest to someone who will be driving with cerebral palsy.

Choosing a car

This guide covers a range of things to think about if you have a disability. It includes details of features that may help you and ways of adapting a car to suit you. However, you may be able to drive an unadapted car, particularly if it has automatic transmission and power steering. Bear in mind that many helpful features, such as height-adjustable seats, are now available on a wider range of models. Also, the less a car has to be modified to suit your needs, the higher its resale value.

Car controls

If you have difficulty using some of the controls, consider the adaptations available to make motoring easier. See this guide for in-depth information on types of adaptations and how to get them. In particular, you should bear in mind these factors:

  • if the strength or control of your legs is poor, you can have more brake assistance added to reduce the effort required
  • you can have foot rests fitted and shaped to suit you
  • if your right leg is affected, you can install a flip-up left-foot accelerator
  • accelerator rings need less effort than a push-pull lever - and you can steer with both hands on the wheel
  • different types of hand controls can be fitted - these can be powered and the force needed adjusted
  • you may want to have a pedal guard fitted to stop your foot interfering with the pedals

Getting into and out of a car

Sometimes, just the right technique is all you need. The guide also covers helpful equipment and details of various lifting systems if you need more help:

  • hoists that lift and lower you on to a car seat
  • lifting seats that swing out and into the car, lowering and locking into a position to suit you

Getting a wheelchair into a car

A run-down of equipment to help you stow or carry a wheelchair:

  • hoists that lift a manual or powered chair into a vehicle
  • rooftop hoists that lift a manual chair up and on to the roof of a car
  • racks that carry a wheelchair on the back of a car
  • trailers and ramps

Driving with cerebral palsy

Effects of cerebral palsy

The cause of cerebral palsy (CP) is most commonly the failure of a part of the brain to develop, before birth or in early childhood. This can be through a range of illnesses or complications in pregnancy, labour or early childhood. Occasionally CP is due to an inherited disorder, but this is rare. It is a non-progressive condition, but over the years you may have physical changes - through older age, for example.

There are three main types of CP, which correspond with the part of the brain that is injured. With spastic CP, some muscles become stiff and weak and can affect your control of movement. With athetoid CP, there will be some difficulty controlling your posture and a tendency to make unwanted movements. With ataxic CP, you will usually have balance problems and possibly also shaky hand movements and irregular speech. The effects of CP can range from extremely mild, where there may be a slight muscle stiffness in one limb, through to a profound disability affecting all limbs.

For some people, the parts of the brain affected result in sight, hearing, perception and learning difficulties. To drive, you must be able to read a standard-size number plate (with glasses or lenses if necessary) from 20.5 metres (67 feet) or 20 metres (65 feet) where narrower characters are used. An eye specialist - an orthoptist or ophthalmologist - will need to assess and treat any visual impairment you have.

With any sensory or cognitive effects, it's important that you go to a Mobility Centre for a full assessment of the different skills you need to drive safely. No two people with CP are affected in the same way, and the assessment and adaptations need to be geared to your particular needs.

For more information on cerebral palsy, contact Scope.

Legal requirements

When applying for a driving licence or car insurance, you must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and your insurance company that you have cerebral palsy. You must also tell them whenever your ability to drive changes significantly, and the insurance company must be informed of any car adaptations. The DVLA will ask for your permission to contact your GP or hospital consultant for more information on your condition. From this, the DVLA decides if you are fit to drive.

There are a number of possible outcomes. You may be issued with a full licence, a time-limited licence (for later review) or with a licence to drive suitably adapted vehicles only. If you are affected by epilepsy and the fits are controlled by medication, you will not be licensed to drive until a clear year after a fit. Another likely outcome is that the DVLA will require you to attend a Mobility Centre for an assessment.

For further information, go to the DVLA website or get 'What you need to know about driving licences' (D100) from a post office.

You can also download this as a complete guide: Motoring with cerebral palsy (PDF). Or you can receive printed publications by post (UK only).

Last updated: December 2011


Main page: Motoring with particular disabilities