How Do People in Wheelchairs Drive?

Driving allows people to get the feeling of freedom. After all, what’s better than having the option to go anywhere you want at any time?

There’s a common misconception about people in wheelchairs- that most people in wheelchairs can’t drive and are limited in mobility.

So people would ask, “how do people in wheelchairs drive?” Can people in wheelchairs drive in the first place? 

The short answer is yes. People in wheelchairs are more than capable of driving cars on their own without any help from others.

They only need certain modifications to the vehicles they’re going to drive.

Let’s find out more about that!

How Do People in Wheelchairs Drive? 

How do people in wheelchairs drive? Well, they need three things: a car, a place for their wheelchair, and assistive gadgets to support their driving.

There are many options customized to their needs and functional ability to help you assume responsibility for driving without relying on other people. 

The cars are often modified with hand controls as substitutions for acceleration, brakes, and clutch pedals.

Types of Vehicles People in Wheelchairs Drive

To better understand how people in wheelchairs drive, you need to know about the different types of cars and how accessible they are for people in wheelchairs.

Drive From Wheelchair WAV

WAV is a term short for “wheelchair-accessible vehicle”. These are SUVs or big vehicles equipped with a ramp on the side or in the rear that allows the driver to roll straight into the driver’s seat and drive while remaining in the wheelchair.

Driver Transfer WAV

This option is for users who prefer to transfer into a seat. Some find it easier or more comfortable to transfer or have manual wheelchairs that don’t provide full stability inside a moving vehicle.

For both vehicle types, it is preferred if you don’t want the hassle of disassembling your wheelchair. 

Electric Accessible SUV/ Pickup Truck

You can get an electric accessible SUV or pickup truck. This is an option where the driver’s seat turns and lowers down to the wheelchair’s level to make the shift easier to and from the vehicle.

The wheelchair is then picked up by a crane at the back of the truck. 

You can also buy a normal car and make it into an adapted car by adding hand controls in them. 

Different Types of Hand Controls

There are a variety of hand control types, and you could discuss with your care provider which one you’d prefer and ask to try them before buying.


These are relatively inexpensive. You could install them on any model vehicle with an automatic gearbox.

They’re also great to have on hand in case your car is in the shop, and you’ll drive a rental or borrow a friend’s car. Any car can become accessible with this option.

However, they’re not the best option for frequent or long drives.

Standard or Mechanical

These controls come in four different styles:


Installed directly onto the feet pedals. You push for brakes and pull for acceleration. This is the most common type.

Right Angle

Installed onto the steering wheel. You pull towards your right torso and thigh to accelerate. Pushing forward applies the brakes.

These hand controls are considered to be the smoothest type.


Also called the motorcycle hand controls, you twist like the motorcycle handles for acceleration and push for brakes. 


Also installed onto the steering wheel. You rock and pull downwards to accelerate and push for brakes.


This is an amazing option for people who prefer less mechanical use. They are mainly digital boards with buttons or touch options and can be installed in all types of cars.

These buttons or triggers allow features such as acceleration, horn, lights, indicators to work. 

Once the system is installed in your car, the computer is then programmed to recognize the signals from the buttons. 


Can I drive if I have a disability?

Yes, you can as long as you pass the requirements below:
16 years old or older
Driver’s license educational course
State-administered written test
Road test with the state examiner
Eye examination
Fulfill other requirements by your state.

Do people with disabilities take a different driving test?

No, people with disabilities should take the same theoretical and practical tests. However, some modifications can be made in both tests to qualify them to become a driver. They must list their condition in the DMV form.

Do I keep my license after having a disability?

Unfortunately, you will have to take the test again to have an adapted driver’s license. This is mainly because you have to get assessments from specialists about the following:
Psychological health
Motor function and muscle strength
Dexterity and coordination
Range of motion and flexibility
Vision and reaction time

After getting assessed, you retake the test after physical modifications for the state to clear you and declare you can use the hand controls and/or any special driving aids.

Do I have to buy a car if I have a disability?

That largely depends on the type of car that you’ve been licensed to drive according to your state and the restriction code written in the license. (i.e., if you’re licensed to drive an automatic, then you aren’t qualified to drive a manual). Comparably, if you’re qualified to drive a modified car, then you’ll need to drive or buy a vehicle with the same required modifications.

Can I get a disabled parking permit?

Yes, depending on each state, there is a list of criteria concerning the conditions for a permit. You can find your state in this parking permit guide!
The most common conditions for a permit are:
A disease or condition that limits your walking
Impaired mobility (i.e. use of wheelchair, cane, or brace)
Missing limbs
Heart or lung disease

How can I get a disabled parking permit?

There are a couple of steps that you must take to get a permit. You should get:
Application: you can get it in person or through the DMV website.
Finish the form: make sure your healthcare provider completes the part that certifies that you have a disability.
Application submission: in person or by email.

Wrapping it Up

So, how do people in wheelchairs drive? There you have it! There is freedom in driving, and having a disability shouldn’t restrict that freedom.

People in wheelchairs need modified assistive vehicles to enable them to drive safely. 

Find out what you need to get your license, the proper car, and hand controls, and get on the highway to independence!