Some people who have disabilities or suffered illnesses like a stroke have been able to get back behind the wheel, with the help of assistive gadgets installed in vehicles.
Gadgets such as a rotator knob attached to the steering wheel, or a hand-control gadget for the accelerator and brake pedals, have helped drivers overcome their disabilities.
The good news for these drivers is that more of these devices, advanced ones, will be available here by next year. These can be linked to the car’s electronic control unit, making it easier to tap functions from acceleration to signalling.
Two devices – an over-ring accelerator and an infra-red remote control device – were approved by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in September last year, The Straits Times has learnt.
The Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), the only organisation here that trains drivers to use these assistive devices, plans to make them available next year.
Meanwhile, it is conducting trials of the Italian-designed gadgets, and getting its driving instructors to become familiarised with them.
HWA executive director Subrata Banerjee said: “These electronic devices give an option to disabled people who may find it difficult to use the mechanical gadgets. But electronic gadgets also need finer dexterity and control.”
The over-ring accelerator is mounted on top of the steering wheel and drivers lightly push it towards the wheel to accelerate. Braking is done mechanically, via a hand-controlled lever mounted under the steering column.
The infra-red remote control, on the other hand, is installed directly on the steering wheel with a metal clamp. It allows the user to activate the vehicle’s headlights, signal indicators, windscreen wipers and horn, among other functions.
It also acts as a rotator knob, and assists drivers who have lost the use of one hand or find it difficult to use both hands to steer adequately.
The introduction of more gadgets is timely, given that more people are seeking help from Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) Driving Assessment and Rehabilitation Programme (Darp), which works closely with the HWA.
Last year, the programme had more than 600 patients, a 20 per cent increase from 2014.
“Most cases we tend to are patients who have suffered from stroke… There’s greater awareness of Darp among (the) disabled population and healthcare workers,” said a TTSH spokesman.
The spokesman said the programme has also had amputees, patients with injuries to the spine, hands and ankles, and those with conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage.
Patients in the programme are first assessed by occupational therapists on their visual, cognitive, visual-perceptual and physical abilities.
If they are fit, they go through an on-road assessment by an HWA driving instructor and an occupational therapist. Those who need assistive devices go for lessons at HWA and are assessed again.
Once they are certified to be safe on the roads, a doctor endorses a driving report and patients have to inform the Traffic Police.
HWA’s transport manager Simon Ching said that every month, it assesses and trains an average of eight drivers under its refresher courses. Each year, it also teaches about 15 beginners – those who are disabled and have no driving experience.
“Four to five years ago, we hardly had any students taking the refresher courses but, with the ageing population, we are seeing more,” he said.
LTA has approved 66 cars with the assistive gadgets since 2013.
Mr Banerjee said: “Being able to drive again gives people confidence and independence.”