Disabled Driving: What to Know as a Driver or Family Member

TDS Blog 2-11-15

Adults with disabilities are faced with many challenges throughout life, but fortunately, driving doesn’t have to be one of them. With just a few special modifications and some training, many disabled adults can safely and easily get behind the wheel and drive cars on roads and highways. Whether you’re a new driver, an experienced driver, or even a family member, these are the things you should know about disabled driving in America.

Disabled Driving Laws

There are several federal laws that apply to disabled individuals’ ability to operate a motor vehicle on American roads. There are many types of physical disabilities and many different ways that disabled people define themselves and their capabilities. But when discussing driving laws, the term “disabled” generally refers to people who have lost the use of at least one limb and require special adjustments to operate a car.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled individuals from being discriminated against in the workplace and for public services. This federal law was passed in 1990 and amended in 2008. Under this law, Departments of Motor Vehicles cannot deny someone a driver’s license solely because of a disability. The law also requires public buildings to have disabled parking spaces that are at least eight feet wide with eight-foot loading zones and wheelchair ramps.

Each individual state has its own set of motor vehicle laws as well that apply to disabled drivers. Disabled drivers are required to inform the DMV about their disability and a restricted license may be issued based on limited vision, hearing, or mobility. Vehicular modification laws also vary from state to state, and mobility equipment should be installed by an approved vendor.

Disabled Driver’s Education

Disabled driver’s education is similar to other forms of driver training, and many driving centers provide specific lessons for the disabled. If you have limited mobility, look for a training center that has wheelchair ramps, joysticks installed in the test vehicles, and other special controls that you will need to learn behind the wheel.

Like all drivers in the U.S., disabled drivers must be at least 16 years old, but are able to start taking driving lessons at the age of 15. Disabled drivers must pass a theory test, which typically includes a multiple choice section and a perception skills section, and a practical road test with an instructor that specializes in disabled driving training.

Disabled Vehicle Requirements

There are certain modifications that must be performed on a vehicle for it to be suitable for a disabled driver. Although the modifications vary based on the particular disability, vehicles should have automatic transmission and a button-less feature that enables easy shifting. Disabled vehicles should also have power steering, locks, seats, and windows.

Some wheelchair users require a lift to get in and out of the vehicle, and hand grips and a transfer board can aid this process as well. If a driver is unable to use brake and accelerator pedals, the vehicle will need to be equipped with hand controls. Some states have outlawed steering wheel spinner knobs for being too dangerous, but others still allow them.

Disabled Parking Permits

State DMVs issue disabled individuals special parking permits after completing an application and obtaining a physician’s signature. Disabled parking permits typically cost between $20 and $40 and allow drivers to park in the most convenient spots outside buildings and along streets.


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