Consumer research for older and disabled people

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WAVs for drivers

There are two types of wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) that can be driven by a person who uses a wheelchair: drive-from-wheelchair WAVs and internal-transfer WAVs. See the pros and cons below, based on our research with wheelchair users.

Drive-from-wheelchair WAVs

Woman sitting in wheelchair where driver's seat would beDrive-from-wheelchair WAVs are becoming more common. The driving controls are adapted for you to operate from your wheelchair. Usually this means some form of hand controls, though other solutions are possible (see our guide to Car controls).

In a drive-from-wheelchair WAV, you need to be able to:

  • open the door,
  • deploy the ramp or lift,
  • get inside, and
  • secure yourself and your wheelchair without assistance.

Most have hands-free entry systems - you push a button on a remote control to open the door and deploy the ramp or lift automatically. There will also be an automatic docking system to secure your wheelchair. All of this will be designed around you and your wheelchair as part of your assessment from an experienced mobility advisor - for example at a Mobility Centre.

All this means that drive-from-wheelchair WAVs are usually a lot more expensive than passenger WAVs. They start at about £26,000 but can cost over £40,000.

Controls

All features of drive-from WAVs are powered, so you need to be able to use the remote control easily. Check:

  • Is the remote control comfortable to hold?
  • Do you prefer buttons or switches?
  • Will you be able to keep pressure on the button/switch?
  • Will you be able to use the button/switch accurately?

Safety

  • Because you may be travelling by yourself, make sure you will be able to get out in an emergency.
  • Drive-from-wheelchair WAVs are typically fitted with fail-safe devices for the doors, ramps/lifts and docking systems. These include battery backups and manual over-rides.
  • For added safety, it is often a good idea to fit an automatic fire extinguishing system.

Other drivers

  • You will need to let others drive the vehicle from time to time.
  • In many drive-from-wheelchair WAVs, the front passenger seat can be switched to the driver's side, and there is a docking system on both sides so you can travel as a passenger.

Assessment and training

  • If you're going to be using adapted controls, you may need a professional driving assessment and training.
  • You may need to have dual controls fitted to use when you're training.
  • Your local Mobility Centre will be able to carry out the assessment and will also tell you about specialist driving instructors in your area.

Internal-transfer WAVs

Woman transferring from car seat to wheelchair

Some wheelchair users prefer to transfer to a driving seat because they find it more comfortable or easier to drive. Sometimes it's necessary because your wheelchair may not be suitable for driving (see also wheelchairs for WAVs). Using the standard car seat also means that you don't need to fit a specialist seat belt.

By contrast, an internal-transfer system may not be suitable if you have a specialist seating system in your wheelchair.

WAVs can be adapted to allow you to enter with your wheelchair or scooter (by ramp or lift), secure the wheelchair or scooter in the vehicle, and then transfer to the driving seat. You can replace the standard car seat with one that swivels and slides so that you can transfer into it more easily.

Controls

  • All features of internal-transfer WAVs are powered, so you need to be able to use the remote controls easily.
  • Is the remote control comfortable to hold?
  • Do you prefer buttons or switches?
  • Will you be able to keep pressure on the button/switch?
  • Will you be able to use the button/switch accurately?

Safety

  • You'll need a mechanism for securing the wheelchair. You need to be able to do this by yourself.
  • Because you may be travelling by yourself, you need to be sure you'll be able to get out in an emergency.
  • For added safety, it is often a good idea to fit an automatic fire extinguishing system.

Transferring

  • Transferring between the wheelchair and the seat does take some effort - make sure you can do it even on a bad day.
  • Make sure there is enough room in the vehicle to let you transfer comfortably and that there are handholds and supports where you need them. You may need to fit extra hand rails or other supports.

Assessment and training

  • If you're going to be using adapted controls, you may need a professional driving assessment and training.
  • You may need to have dual controls fitted to use when you're training.
  • Your local Mobility Centre will be able to carry out the assessment and will also tell you about specialist driving instructors in your area.

Last updated: February 2017


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