Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Secondary car controls

Jeff Gosling push-pull indicator control
Push-pull indicator

The secondary controls of a vehicle are for everything from the ignition, lights and indicators to heating, air conditioning and in-car entertainment. You may have difficulty operating any of these, or they may be made more difficult by the other adaptations you are using.

Standard secondary controls on some newer cars may be easy to use without adaptation. For example, some have push-button ignition and remote central locking. Windscreen wipers and lights that switch themselves on automatically are becoming more common. Many cars have controls for cruise control and audio equipment on the steering wheel, and a few have voice controls for these.

Simple controls

Alfred Bekker transfer rod fitted to car turn indicator
Indicator extension

There are many simple attachments that can make secondary controls easier to use, and there are several systems that bring all the controls together. These can be fitted and adjusted to meet your needs. They can eliminate stretching and can be used however little strength and dexterity you may have.

Simple controls can be placed so that you don't have to take your hands off the steering wheel when you use them. You can also install an indicator extension, which is a rod that transfers the indicators from one side of the wheel to the other, so you can operate the indicators with your right hand. You can also have push-button ignition fitted, either as a separate button or as part of a control system.

Complex controls

Lodgesons steering ball grip
Steering ball grip

Switches to control some or all of the following functions can be built into many hand controls. Alternatively, they can be controlled from keypads mounted on steering spinners or separate keypads mounted on the dashboard, door panel or elsewhere.

  • lights - on/off, main beam, flash
  • indicators, hazard lights
  • horn
  • windscreens (front and rear) - wiper, washer, defogger
  • heating, ventilation, air conditioning
Smartsteer lollipop grip hand control from Autochair
Lollipop grip

Multi-function keypads are particularly useful for people who have the use of only one hand, because everything is in the same place. You do need some dexterity in your fingers and must be able to tell the buttons apart. The control can be mounted on the right or left but if you'll be using your less-dominant hand, it can take practice to get used to it.

Look for: Buttons that are well spaced and within easy reach, taking into account the size of your hands. The buttons should be shaped or positioned so that you can tell them apart by touch. Avoid any you could confuse.

Safety: At first, some people need to look at the control to make sure they are pressing the right button. If this means there is a danger of not being able to concentrate enough to control the car, you should get professional tuition. Practice finding the right button by touch when the car is stationary.

Touch controls

EMC Digipad car control from DS&P
EMC Digipad

These are easy-to-operate switches that can be placed in a position that suits you. There are a range of designs and attachments, and their sensitivity can be adjusted to your needs. Touch pads need just a light touch from any part of the body in reach; levers can just be nudged by an elbow, for example. You can fit several touch pads to control as many features as you need.

Headrest controls can have buttons for as many as six different controls, though most people find it difficult to manage more than three - you would need good control and upper-body stability. A one-button headrest can also be used with a bleeper system. If you are considering headrest controls, an assessment will help you decide what you need

Bleeper and tone systems

If you don't have enough dexterity for individual buttons, you can fit a system that uses a single button to control several functions - the number will depend on the make and model of the unit. When you press the switch, you'll hear a series of bleeps or tones. Each is for a different control. You press the switch until you reach the one for the control that you want. For example, the fourth bleep may switch on the sidelights. These systems can be combined with touch pads and cost from about £1,500.

Companies supplying secondary control systems
Supplier Product Price
Adaptacar Comdis 12-way steering ball £1,290
Sojadis 12-way bleeper £1,249
Autochair Smartsteer 10/13-way lollipop grip from £1,200
DS&P Mobility
Digipad Econo touchpad n/a
Digipad Gold touchpad n/a
Power headrest n/a
Elap 12-way steering ball from £709
Push-button unit n/a
Lodgesons 7/10/13/18-way steering ball from £1,500
7/10/13/18-way lollipop grip from £1,600
9- or 12-way bleeper n/a
Techmobility 9- or 12-way steering ball n/a
Headlight dip/main and flash switch n/a

Voice-control systems

Voice-control systems mean you do not need to move any kind of switch. The Digivoice, for instance, will recognise voice commands to operate up to 18 secondary controls, including selecting gear. It is programmed to recognise only one voice, so there is no danger of anyone else accidently taking control of the car.

Instruments, navigation and communications

More and more cars come with sophisticated gadgets to help you drive in safety and comfort. Most of these can also be fitted to just about any car. They include:

  • heads-up display, which projects instrument readings on to the windscreen
  • parking sensors and cameras
  • satellite navigation
  • hands-free mobile phone system
  • cruise control

Last updated: June 2012

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