Driving with a disability4 min read
Roger Loveless outlines the winding road that disabled people face securing vehicle adaptations.
For those lucky enough to have the capability, then driving your own vehicle should be a normal transport choice. But is it? Depending on your own disability journey, the options open to you will vary. ACC or health funding? Independent funding available? Full time wheelchair user? Employed or not?
If assessed by ACC as needing a highly specialised vehicle, it’s a nine stage process, with suitable vehicle types to choose from identified at step 3. For an non-disabled person selection would involve many criteria, such as initial cost, petrol/diesel/electric, fuel economy, safety rating, maintenance costs, features, auto or manual, towing capability, perhaps even colour, sport options, seating and mag wheels. Not too many of these choices in the options for you and once it’s yours you agree to:
- be responsible for all on-going running and operating costs of the vehicle
- agree to undertake routine maintenance of the vehicle and modifications
- take out motor vehicle insurance for the value of the vehicle and modifications
All of these things are more expensive than for the standard vehicle you would have been driving before your accident.
If you don’t come under ACC, your options are extremely limited. Although funding for modifications may be available if you are lucky enough to be employed, you must buy the vehicle and cover all the above costs as well. For some, lottery or other charity funding may be an option, but your choice of vehicle will still be extremely limited, and perhaps the funding for modifications will not cover everything you need.
Want a new car when you retire? Forget it if you still want to drive and your income isn’t what you are used to.
My vehicle is an adapted Kia Carnival, 11 years old, modified by Vehicle Adaption Services who put 150 of them on the road in the period to about 2010. Then they lost their ACC contract and wound up the business. I bought mine in 2012 after I could no longer get out of my wheelchair and safely transfer to the drivers’ seat after hoisting the wheelchair into the back of the Honda Odyssey I was driving at the time. The modifications took ages, and getting the funding was not assured when I bought it. That in itself was a stroke of luck as I was surfing the internet one day and noticed the vehicle for sale in New Plymouth. I bought it after an AA check, sight unseen, fitted out with a wheelchair able to be locked into the passenger position. Further modifications included hand controls and setting it up for either an able person or me to drive from my wheelchair. It had been poorly maintained and took some time for the teething problems to be ironed out. On-going it’s not cheap, over 13 litres/100km for fuel, unexpected ramp maintenance just cost me a four figure sum, the ramp cables fail regularly as well as the batteries that have to operate the air compressor for the ramp.
Some folk own a vehicle they cannot drive, depending on volunteer drivers when they want to go out. But there’s only so many times you can depend on them, and there’s still the on-going costs of ownership.
But spare a thought for the 10 or 12 drivers who bought adapted Skoda Yeti’s from UDrive Mobility. After spending over $100,000 on their vehicles, which they could enter from the back and drive away, the NZTA decided their certification was invalid and put them off the road for months. Needless to say they aren’t being modified for the New Zealand market any more. On paper they gave purchasers some of the choices mentioned above, and in particular were far less expensive to operate than the large van alternative.
So where does this leave our younger electric wheelchair folk transitioning from school and tertiary education? In this brave new world of increasing choice, can they get mobile with their own self drive vehicle like their peers? Or must they depend on public transport, their carers, friends and parents whenever they want to go out? Have you heard of the Elbee? Yes, it’s one choice. It takes a wheelchair user….on their own. But people do have friends and carers who they may wish to come with them. And what about the groceries and longer journeys?
Well there is a company putting adapted Mercedes Benz Vito’s, Mercedes Benz Sprinters and VW Transporters on the road they could use, but how can a young person setting out afford one? Their peers can buy a very good cheap and reliable car for under $10,000. Second hand market? Well good luck and dream on!
So here’s a plug for much wider choice in transport options for everyone who has the capability of driving an adapted vehicle. Isn’t this a part of the brave new world of DSS transformation?