When we think about innovative adaptations to vehicles, we often think about adaptations that have been made to make the life of the disabled driver easier and while these are wholly relevant, we actually forget that cars have been continually developed, changed and adapted over the years for the comfort and ease of every driver.
Driving tests within the UK have made huge strides to be more helpful for those who are disabled. The DVSA have implemented a number of laws which enable disabled individuals get onto the road, quickly but safely. Companies like SpeedyTests also help drivers get onto the road as quickly as possible – which again can be a huge benefit to not only disabled drivers, but any driver.
Innovative Power Steering
Ask your parents and grandparents about the days before power steering was invented. Ever wondered why despite her age granny has such impressive biceps? Try a car without power steering for a day or two and you’ll find out. Invented in 1951 by Chrysler, it became a feature of luxury cars in the 1950s and 1960s. As with every new technology, it eventually became more mainstream in the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s it was considered a mainstream feature of motor vehicle engineering. Power steering makes managing your vehicle easier particularly when making wide turns and parking. It is unthinkable today that a car would not have power steering.
It was only a matter of time before cars became computerized. As computing technology has advanced and became very innovative, and the size of memory chips and modules have decreased, applying computing technology to motor vehicle engineering has been a natural evolution. Long gone are the days when we had to guess exactly where a fault was occurring. Nowadays our cars tell us where they feel the pain with codes from the engine management unit. But that’s not the only place that computers manage our cars. Immobilizers, climate control and even the electric windows are all computerized. Our cars even remind us when they need their next service.
Cruise control as we understand it today was invented in 1948. It removes the need to constantly monitor the speed at which you are driving and increase or decrease pressure on an accelerator. This is particularly helpful for drivers that travel long journeys. Some modern and innovative cars have cruise control as part of their computerized system, especially in more recent automatic transmission models. Cruise control has been lauded with all sorts of advantages such as when the oil crisis of the 1970s hit. Being able to control and maintain a specific speed to increase fuel economy has been one of the biggest arguments. It has also been recognized as a safety mechanism that prevents inadvertently creeping beyond the speed limit on long journeys.
Steering Wheel Controls
Having steering wheel controls to manage our in-car radio and music center is certainly an innovation that has contributed to driving safety. Here however are a lot more activities taking place on the steering wheel than before. Cruise control is now usually managed from the steering wheel too. When a car needs to be adapted for a disabled person, the first place that is considered is the steering wheel. Because of its versatility and the proximity to the cars wiring adapting the steering wheel to meet the needs of the driver has become the norm.
Steering wheel adaptations
It has become possible for people with severe physical limitations to drive and to do so safely. The steering wheel with its versatility has led to the development of the steering ring which can control both the accelerator and the brakes, removing the requirement for foot controls. Additionally, there are alternatives in the form of pressure levers, also attached to the steering wheel that enable acceleration and braking with very light contact. These have been designed specifically for disabled people that struggle to apply pressure to the ring or other control mechanisms. The steering wheel spinner gives the driver who has the use of only one hand or arm, complete control over their steering and thus the car. In fact, this adaptation has also been used by able bodied drivers in complex driving situations.
The Duck Clutch
The duck clutch is a lesser known adaptation and is perfect for the person that only has one reliable leg, but still wants to drive a manual vehicle. The clutch is transferred to the gear-stick and is compressed with the hand during the gear shift. Called a duck clutch because with the lever on the gear stick it has the appearance of the head and beak of a duck. For people who may spend a lot of time in congested traffic this is also an ideal solution to avoid the constant clutch decompression that can become painful.
Driving has evolved and continues to evolve as we find ways to improve the experience and increase safety. We are already well on the way to driverless technology and it is quite possible that in a generation or two, the idea of self driving a vehicle will be lost on car owners. As long as we are looking for faster and safer ways to get around in our cars, new ideas to make it easier will constantly be on the horizon.