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Electric vehicles and accessibility

There are a range of conditions that can affect someone’s ability to drive, whether they have been present from birth or developed over time. With electric vehicles becoming more prevalent on our roads and offering a cleaner, more sustainable way to drive, what do those with accessibility requirements need to know about making the switch to an EV?
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Man in wheelchair plugging electric car in

Before we get into the potential disadvantages of driving an EV, it should be noted that there are advantages as well.

What are the advantages of driving an EV with a disability?

One of the main differences between an EV and petrol or diesel car is the experience of the ride. With an EV, the ride is smoother because it’s an automatic and there are no gears to change, and quieter because it doesn’t have an engine that makes any noise. These are welcome developments for those who might experience muscular or joint pain, or those sensitive to loud noises. 

Additionally, filling up a petrol or diesel car can pose problems for those who have difficulty gripping the fuel pump nozzle. As EV drivers just have to plug their car in to charge, this should make things easier for those with arm or hand pain, or those with artificial limbs.

What are the disadvantages of driving an EV with a disability?

It’s worth noting, though, that there are disadvantages for EV drivers with disabilities as well. The chargers themselves can be heavy and range anxiety can be particularly acute for those with pre-existing psychological challenges. 

While the charging process itself can be a challenge, the area around the charging points also usually leaves something to be desired when it comes to accessibility. The Next Web found that 0.003% of public charging points are accessible to disabled drivers. Issues included:

  • Lack of dropped kerbs

  • Not enough room to unload wheelchairs

  • Chargers too tall

  • Screens couldn’t be seen clearly from seated position

  • Chargers and cables positioned too high

  • Lack of help screens and signs

As the number of EV drivers increases, then, improvements will have to be made to the design of the vehicles and the public charging infrastructure.

What measures exist (or are being developed) to help EV drivers with a disability?

In the car

There are various modifications that can be made to an electric vehicle to help drivers with accessibility requirements, in the same way that modifications can be made to a manual petrol or diesel car.

For instance, hand controls for accelerating and braking can be added to help those who can’t effectively use their feet or legs to control the pedals. Electronic accelerators can be added to different points around the driver’s seat wherever is most comfortable - on or behind the steering wheel is a common place. Pedal and steering wheel modifications can also be implemented to make operating them easier.

At charging points

The Department for Transport and Motability (a charity supporting disabled drivers in the UK) are working together to revamp charging point access. At the core of the strategy is a new set of standards that will group charging points into one of the following categories that will help drivers assess if they meet their needs:

  • Fully accessible

  • Partially accessible

  • Not accessible

Work will focus on ensuring that kerb height and the height of the charging points will be suitable for wheelchair users.

Are there any discount schemes available for those with accessibility needs who want an EV?

Motability runs a scheme to help drivers with accessibility needs to get behind the wheel affordably. It’s open to those who receive at least one of the following:

  • Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment (ERMC PIP)

  • Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (HRMC DLA)

  • Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP)

  • War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPM)

The scheme provides the following:

  • A wide range of plug-in EVs to choose from

  • Insurance for a maximum of three named drivers

  • Servicing, maintenance and repairs

  • Support for installing a charging point at home