The hand controls for JR Harding’s van are quite complex.
Mobility equipment dealers know how to mix and match the many different types of controls needed by any driver. Scott Poore, owner of Advanced Driving Systems, did that for JR Harding of Tallahassee, Fla. Harding has been paralyzed at the C5 level since 1983 and at the C6 level since 1988 due to two separate accidents that occurred 15 years apart. He has combined different types of systems that help him control his vehicle safely. His steering is assisted through Drivemaster reduced-effort steering, a tri-pin device to help him maintain a grip on the steering wheel with his left hand, and an extension to move the wheel closer to his body. Another tri-pin device mounted to his right helps him handle the acceleration and braking by pushing and pulling on the handle of a Mobility Products and Designs control. Auxiliary functions of driving are controlled through use of a Digipad or by touch controls mounted on his headrest.
That same professional advice can serve those who have been driving for years, but who are curious about how they might benefit from a switch to one of the newer hand control models. After using a MPS Monarch hand control for years, Allen Garrett, a C6-7 quad from Vero Beach, Fla., recently switched to one of the Sure Grip models. An amputee from Santa Cruz, Calif., Allen Carman, also made the same switch when he found it was more comfortable for him. Both men encourage other drivers to check periodically to see if a particular product, whether newly introduced or in common use for years, might work better for them.
Many drivers continue to use the type of hand controls they used when they first started driving. David Norley, a T4 para from Soap Lake, Wash., has been driving with hand controls for about 50 years. He started with a used set of Wells-Engberg controls donated by a friend after his 1964 auto accident and has remained loyal to that brand. The simple design initially allowed him to move the control himself whenever he changed to a new vehicle, and those he rented, during that half century. During the last few years he has let the professionals make those hand control swaps for him.
Nancy Starnes of Sparta, N.J., paralyzed from a spinal cord injury at the T12-L1 level, has used the push-pull type of controls for most of the time that she has been driving. She simply moves hers to each new vehicle when she purchases a car. While she is completely comfortable with that type of control, she has also been able to drive safely when using rental cars outfitted with different types of hand controls.
Types of Hand Controls
The number of types of hand controls available for drivers with any kind of disability has continued to grow, and some even allow vehicles with manual transmissions to be operated safely with hand controls. Patrick Cottini is the owner of an automobile repair shop in Chico, Calif., that specializes in repairing, restoring and selling classic cars, and repairing wheelchairs. Cottini, paralyzed at the C7 level at age 15, believes in keeping active. He bought a three-wheeled motorcycle equipped with a paddle shifter in 2008 and recently installed a similar device in a new BMW Sport Coupe that he compares to the feeling of driving a rally racecar. Not surprisingly, he believes that the use of paddle shifters is the wave of the future for people who drive with hand controls.
Steering modifications, when needed, often include the addition of a knob or similar device on the steering wheel to allow it to be operated with one hand. Other modifications might include adjustment of the position of the wheel to move it closer to the driver, a smaller steering wheel, or a counterweight mounted opposite any other devices attached to the wheel to make it easier to turn. For those with minimal strength, power-assisted steering can allow the wheel to be turned easily.