Driving and disabilities

Having access to transport is an important part of life. The benefits include: 

  • Helping us get out and about.
  • Keeping us connected with others.
  • Assist us to live more independently.

Your disability or medical condition may mean that you need to have your vehicle modified so you can drive (or be a passenger) in safety and comfort.

You might also need to confirm that you are medically fit to drive or have a driving assessment.

Who gets their vehicle modified?

People who have an impairment in some or all their limbs may get a vehicle modified. This allows them to be independent and use a vehicle just like any able-bodied person does.
These are some examples of when a person might get a vehicle modification:
  • If they want to drive but can't operate the medals due to lower-body impairment.
  • If they are in a wheelchair and can't access the vehicle through a regular door.
  • If they have impairment in their arms and can't use the standard hand controls.

Types of modifications

To see what vehicles modifications look like, watch our video featuring Kevin O'Leary, an occupational therapist and vehicle modifications expert.

Just as every person is unique, each vehicle modification is also different. There is no standard vehicle modification because every disabled person has different requirements.

But there are some common modifications. These include:

  • hand controls
  • left-foot accelerators
  • wheelchair stowage equipment
  • handbrake devices
  • hoists and ramps

Most modifications are for people who either need to drive the vehicle, or travel as a passenger.

For disabled people who want to drive, the modification depends on their impairment.
Kevin O’Leary says for people travelling as passengers, their main issue is getting access to the vehicle.
“[That] is primarily a hoist. Sometimes it’s a ramp but more often than not it’s a hoist.
“You’ve got to put a level floor in. The rear of all vans are corrugated for strength. So you’ve got to put a wooden floor in so the wheelchair will run to the correct position.
“There will be the restraint system that holds it down, and a seat belt to hold the person in there as well.”
He says for people who are driving, the modification depends on their level of impairment.
“There’s people that transfer into the driver’s seat of their car and then drive. So, the modifications can be something as simple as pedal modifications. For example, somebody that’s an amputee and has a right leg amputation and needs to drive. We might be looking at a left foot accelerator pedal.”
Kevin O’Leary says many modifications are hand controls for people who can’t use their lower limbs.
Some people also have impairment in their arms. In these cases, more modifications are made so they can control the vehicle.

What does an assessor/occupational therapist do during an assessment?

When a person is being assessed by an occupational therapist, the assessor will establish what they need help to do when using a vehicle.
“Whatever we do, it’s got to be done in a way that means the person is safe. That their driving is safe, or their travelling as a passenger is safe,” Kevin O’Leary says.
“If the person’s driving, where do they need to be sitting to steer? Where are their legs in relationship to the pedals on the floor that they’re not going to be using? And then, where does the hand control need to go in relation to where they are sitting to steer?”
If someone needs to travel in a wheelchair, one of the main considerations is making sure the modifications are compatible with the wheelchair.
Kevin O’Leary says other aspects such as the person’s height and weight must also be considered. This ensures the right-sized vehicle is chosen.

The cost of vehicle modifications

The cost of vehicle modifications depends on how complex the modification is.

Fitting out a vehicle with a hoist and restraint systems can cost more than $20,000.

But simpler modifications, such as adding hand controls, are much cheaper.

For more information about funding for vehicle modifications, go to our page Funding for vehicle modifications.

Kevin O’Leary says as vehicles become more sophisticated, the cost of vehicle modifications could decrease.
“Technology’s really good in the vehicles. Stuff like keyless entry, remote ignition, push-button start, and electric park brakes. It just means if you’ve got a high level of injury or disability, and you have less ability to access secondary controls, the more features in the vehicle, the easier it is to drive.
“So, these modern vehicles with the drive assist technology will, in the next five years, flow through into the second-hand market, which will give availability.
“And it also means with that technology that we have to do less modifications to the vehicle, which in theory can make it cheaper.”

Are there any restrictions to what can be carried out?

To ensure that modifications are carried out safely and to a high standard, the New Zealand Transport Agency has some rules about vehicle modifications. There are guidelines about:

  • What modifications can be made to private vehicles.
  • Inspection and certifications required for certain modifications.
  • Who can carry out modifications.

Go to Disabilities and driving (external website)

Can my vehicle be modified?

Depending on the nature of your disability, you may be eligible for funding for vehicle modifications through the Ministry of Health or ACC.

You will need to have an assessment carried out to see if you are eligible.

Go to Funding for vehicle modifications

How can I get an assessment?

The New Zealand Transport Agency recommends that if you have a physical disability then it is beneficial to get advice from an Occupational Therapist (OT).

To carry out an assessment of your needs in order to claim for modification funding, the OT must be trained in driver, passenger and vehicle assessments.

The OT can:

  • Test your driving ability.
  • Give advice on the controls and adaptations you need for access, seating and to drive safely and in comfort.
  • Evaluate your muscle strength and range of movement.

For a referral to an OT, talk to your doctor or health professional, District Health Board or Needs Assessment and Service Coordination (NASC) team. 

What type of vehicle aids could help me?

Equipment is available to help you or your passenger get in and out of a car more easily and safely.

Types of equipment available include:

  • transfer boards
  • portable ramps
  • leg lifters
  • car handy bars
  • swivel cushions

We recommend that you talk to an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist before you buy equipment. 

Confirm you are medically fit to drive

You need to confirm that you are medically fit each time you apply for, renew or replace your driver licence.

If you have a disability or medical condition you may have to:

  • present a medical or eyesight certificate
  • have a medical driving assessment.

For a full list of disabilities or medical conditions that may affect your ability to drive safely visit the New Zealand Transport Agency website.

Go to Medical Requirements (external website)

Icon indicating more information Further information

 The New Zealand Transport Agency website also has information on:

Dementia and Driving (external website)

Diabetes and Driving (external website)

Disabilities and Driving (external website)

Epilepsy and Driving (external website)

Head Injuries and Driving (external website)

Vision and Driving (external website)

Occupational Therapy Medical Driving Assessments (external website)

Some government and lottery funding is available to help disabled people with the cost of modifying a vehicle or buying a vehicle to modify.

Go to Funding for vehicle modifications