Check the car is right for the driver
If you or someone you know is having difficulty driving, it may simply be that the car is not suitable. There could be a number of reasons for this; for example, someone who has pain or weakness in their arms may find it much easier to drive an automatic car or one with power-assisted steering.
Some problems could be solved by making minor adaptations to the existing car, such as fitting auxiliary mirrors to aid all-round vision or parking sensors. Even subtle adjustments to the driver’s seat and its height can give a better – and more comfortable – driving position or ease of access.
Some problems could be solved by making minor adaptations to the existing car.
If adaptations aren’t possible or sufficient, drivers might want to consider switching to a different model, perhaps one smaller and easier to manoeuvre or which gives a better driving position and view of the road. Of course, this could involve a degree of extra cost, but could prove to be a worthwhile investment in staying mobile, as having the right car can sometimes make a world of difference.
For more tips on choosing the right vehicle for you, take a look at our car buying tips on the Which? Cars website. The advice is specific to the type of car you want, such as small, estate and electric.
Vehicle adaptations that may help
More complex and specific adaptations can be made, including fitting hand controls to use instead of foot pedals, specially-shaped pedals, ‘spinners’ to reduce the effort needed to turn a steering wheel, tiller or joystick steering, and hoists and seat-lifts to ease access in and out of the car.
A detailed guide to these, and to suppliers and fitters, can be found at the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC). RiDC is a charity that specialises in consumer research for older and disabled people. Their website has some excellent guides: there are pages on choosing and finding the right car, as well as information on the range of options available for adapting an existing car.
Drivers considering adaptations to their car, or buying a car specified to meet their needs, should have an assessment at a Driving Mobility centre. These are independent, but are recognised both by the DVLA and the Motability scheme, through which disabled people can use their higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the enhanced rate of the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair.
To find out more about the Motability scheme and the kind of car you can buy or lease through it, take a look at our guide on how to buy a Motability car on the Which? Cars site.
The Blue Badge scheme
This scheme for disabled drivers, or those with permanently limited mobility, offers concessions including free parking in selected areas.
Check out our comprehensive Blue Badge scheme guide for information on eligibility, how to apply, renewals and how to use the permit.
Trying to navigate in new or unfamiliar places can be a challenging experience, and the more technologically-literate may benefit from using satellite navigation - turn-by-turn voice commands and/or dashboard displays to guide you to your destination.
Many newer cars come with this fitted as standard, but devices to add to the car are available. Read about how to buy the best sat nav in Which? Technology for more information.
Navigation apps can also be downloaded for use on smartphones, suitable for in-car use if the phone is held in a dashboard-mounted cradle.
Through a Driving Mobility centre older people can get information, advice and a driving assessment relating to medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, or for returning to driving following an illness, injury or accident. Assessments, advice and driver training are also offered by organisations and charities including Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF).
For more details about driving with dementia, and how to organise an assessment, see the Alzheimer’s Society website.
There aren’t many drivers of any age out there who can say, hand on heart, that they’ve never had cause to question their confidence – and even the most self-assured driver could benefit from taking an occasional refresher course. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into bad habits or to forget some of the key things we learned when we got our licence. A few hours with a good driving instructor can be the quickest way to regain some confidence and to brush up on important skills.
None of these refresher courses will result in a driver ‘passing’ or ‘failing’. They are simply there to provide additional training and support, but they can be an invaluable first step in assessing whether someone is safe behind the steering wheel. Some useful courses are:
- The AA: the AA offers some free Drive Confident courses to those who meet certain criteria. Contact the AA Charitable Trust for information.
- The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM): the IAM’s RoadSmart Mature Driver’s Assessment course is geared specifically towards older drivers.
- Private driving instructor: many private driving instructors have experience of working with older drivers. Always look for an instructor who is registered with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency - you can find a search for approved drivers on their website here.
How to travel comfortably with mobility difficulties
Whether you’re a passenger or driving yourself, if you have limited mobility you may face extra challenges using a car. For more tips on staying comfortable on the road read our guide to travelling by car with limited mobility:
Poor eyesight, reduced hearing, deteriorating medical conditions and general tiredness could all have a worrying impact ...
Our guide provides tips on how to have a comfortable car journey if you use a wheelchair or have reduced mobility.
How to apply for a Blue Badge. How to fill in the form or renew a badge, and what to do if your application is refused.