Saturday, October 12, 2013

Renting Cars with Hand Controls for Drivers with Disabilities

Car-Rental to Drivers with Disabilities

Last update: 5/2019

Renting Cars with Hand Controls for Drivers with Disabilities

Following some time-consuming adventures, I would like to share with the readers the experience of independent travel with disability abroad. Main points:
  • The disabled customer cannot rely on local travel agents and the reservation offices of the international rental companies. NOT AVAILABLE usually means either: don't know OR don't want to deal with it and take risk. Non-standard rental costs them more in communication and time, and they feel they can't charge the client for it. Agents specializing with disabled travellers usually push organized tours and cruises, not means for independent travel.

  • The best way to rent a car when travel agents give up is to contact the rental companies directly in the destination city or airport. The best way is communicating by fax (sometimes Email is also available). The numbers may be retrieved with the help of the phone company's operator or from Internet sites.

  • Consider using portable hand-controls system. One of the vendors (Lynx) also helps finding rental cars in various countries.

  • Availability in the USA seems to be the best, including adapted vans, RV's. Country-specific info is provided here for Europe, Australia, Southern Africa and North America.

  • The types of hand-controls offered by the companies are very different and strange in many cases. For the safety of the driver and to avoid unpleasant surprises there should be an international standard.

  • Beware of small (or local) rental companies. Some of them take advantage of the special needs of handicapped drivers. They offer old cars with hand-controls at very high prices, limit rental terms and offer bad service.

  • There are some alternatives for transportation abroad, but none is better than car-rental for independent travel.

  • Fax is better than phone because of language ''problems'' in many places. Fast written communication may save a lot of misunderstandings. In some cases even E-mail may work.

  • Usefull info may be retrieved with the help of your embasies in the destination country, ministry of work/welfare there, handicapped organizations etc. I found an adapted car in Spain with the help of our embasy in Madrid.

  • PARKING is a problem in many cities. In developed countries there are reserved spaces for disabled badge holders. Some of them are intended for regional badge holders only (e.g. London, UK). In most places that I visited, an improvised handicapped sign () with a note like ''disabled tourist'' is OK with most (not all) policemen. On the other hand, since some countries suffer from ussge of faked badges, using an improvised one may lead to unpleasant incidents.
    Please read also the following note from Carol Randall:
    There have been many advances in opening up travel opportunities for persons with disabilities. One such advance benefits the increasing numbers who wish to take driving vacations in Europe.
    In 1997, the European Conference of Ministers of Transportation (ECMT) passed a resolution that will make it easier for persons with disabilities to operate private vehicles in Europe. When travelers park, they display a document that shows the international symbol for persons with disabilities, as well as the name of the holder of the document. Starting January 1999 a traveler in a ECMT country with a parking document can get the same parking facilities as a citizen of that country, provided the traveler is from an ECMT member country or from an associated member country. Since an increasing number of motorists with disabilities are coming to Europe from the United States and Canada, the resolution recognized parking permits issued to drivers from these countries as well.
    (Taken from the spring issue of the Canadian Transportation Agency`s publication ''Moving Ahead'').
    A very detailed page about parking for disabled British drivers in the EU is provided by the UK Department for Transport. See also the EU Parking card statement.
    In the Blue Badge Scheme document from Essex (UK) the following text was found: A system of reciprocal arrangements exists, under which disabled visitors from the participating countries can take advantage of the concessions provided in the host country by displaying the badge issued under their own national scheme. As of April 2000, such reciprocal arrangements exist between: Austria Germany Italy *Norway Belgium Greece Jersey Portugal Denmark Guernsey Liechtenstein *Spain Finland Iceland Luxembourg Sweden France *Ireland Netherlands. No schemes currently exist in Gibraltar, or Yugoslavia. *Although there are no formal reciprocal arrangements with Norway, Spain or the Republic of Ireland, but it is understood that they will respect the disabled parking badge of this country when displayed, it is suggested that application is made to the visiting country and that badge holders take their current badge with them.
    We are not sure if all the above-mentioned arrangements (outside the EU) are valid today.

    An updated document about reciprocal arrangements in the EU was published by the ITF (International Transport Forum, which is a part of the OECD). It says:
    ...All Member Countries of the ECMT would grant the same parking concessions to people with disabilities as they offered their own nationals. These concessions usually allowed special parking in areas reserved for people with disabilities, or allowed longer parking periods or exemptions from charges... In addition to all the Member countries of ECMT this Resolution now applies also to the ECMT Associated Countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and United States). This means that disabled motorists from all ECMT Member and Associate countries are now entitled to the same parking concessions as nationals in all ECMT Countries. The only condition is the display of a badge showing the international wheelchair symbol.
    The province of Nova Scotia (Canada) has specific Reciprocating States Regulations with specific USA states and Puerto-Rico.

    In 2019 we find the interesting page Disabled Person Parking Permits for Florida Visitors. It starts with the declaration:
    Florida recognizes license plates and parking permits displaying the international symbol of accessibility that has been issued by any state or foreign country.
    Other badge holders may have to pass a long procedure to get a temporary parking permit.

    I would like to suggest that the UN will design a unified disabled parking permit (badge) that will be issued and recognized by all UN members. The badge should be personal (not containing specific car's number). It must contain some elements against counterfeit.


  • In some countries (including the USA) the common method of refueling the car is self-service. In extreme cases there is no attendant at all or there is only a cashier who is not allowed to get out of his/her post. This is a severe problem for disabled drivers. In some cases the disabled driver simply can`t do it. In marginal cases he/she may compromise on safety and spend a lot of time and efforts on this (usually) simple operation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is aware of the problem but offers no solution when the station is ``operating on a remote control basis with a single employee``. An example of the problematic situation was given in an article “Service Station” an Oxymoron for Drivers with Disabilities. The author, Susan LoTempio, says:
    ...It occurred to me that I couldn’t be the only driver in America who was frustrated. Frustrated not just because the price of gas is obscenely high, but also because it’s so difficult to find a gas station where an attendant will pump my gas...
    • Let me share my personal experience at the self-serve island.
    • I find it dangerous to squeeze my wheelchair between the car and the island and to try to get close enough to the pumps and the gas tank.
    • I can’t reach the hose, the buttons that activate the flow of gasoline or the opening for my credit card. Lifting the hose is nearly impossible.
    • Even if I managed to pump a few gallons, I couldn’t return the hose to its rightful place.
    • I can’t reach the receipt.
    On the ADA article about Assistance at Self-Serve Gas Stations Susan says:
    ...But owners and employees routinely ignore this law. I’d bet that most owners and employees of gas stations don’t even know it exists. Finding out whom or what enforces the law is a big mystery.
    A good exception seems to be a law in New Jersey and Oregon banning self-service based on safety considerations.
    Even without disability, there is a serious risk of fire from static electricity, as reported and explained in the PEI `Stop Static` site.

    Since we can`t change the world in a few months, here are some partial solutions:
    1. Prefer a Diesel or hybrid car with a large fuel tank to reduce frequency of visits to gas stations.
    2. Stations on highways (autoroutes, autobahns, autostrades) are more likely to have full service option. It is more expensive, but the difference is negligible relative to other travel expenses.
    3. Some gas station offer full service only during working hours.
    4. Never travel with tank below (e.g.) 1/4.
    5. Avoid help from strangers in some regions.
    6. Avoid letting small children refuel the car.


  • When concentrating several days in a single city (especially London, New-York, Rome, Tel-Aviv and Paris) consider giving up the car and rely on taxies, buses, Metro/subway and light-train. In some cities these services are accessible. Parking is very hard in the above-mentioned cities. One should verify availability of public transportation especially in weekends and holidays.

  • When possible, avoid flights if the distances permit travel by car. Airport procedure and car replacement may take a long time. Since Sep. 11 2001 security is tighter and screening may be unpleasent (to say the least) for disabled persons. Warning: verify insurance limits and availability of breakdown services when taking rented cars accross borders.

  • Upgrades are very nice for most drivers, but may be problematic. Upgrading from a spacious Opel or Ford to a sporty BMW or Golf may be fun to drive, but hard with a wheelchair or difficult to get in with long legs.

  • Beware of hand-controls with manual gearbox! Why do most companies offer popular manual cars and only expensive automatic models?

  • Many persons with right leg injury need left gas pedal (linksgas in German). Very few rental companies offer it upon request, it is not mentioned in most Web sites and brochures (with the possible exception of Mietauto from Switzerland and Budget of The Netherlands). A good idea may be to get used to hand-controls as the last option. The reason behind this difficulty was explained in PayLess car-rental site (look for "FAQ"). It said, among other things:
    Because many vehicles in rental service are obtained under re-purchase programs
    or as leased equipment, it may not be possible to provide disability equipment
    that is either permanently installed or involves permanent alteration to a vehicle,
    such as left-foot gas pedal extensions. 
    
    On the other hand, SpinLife said that:
    Avis equips its cars with Kroepke hand controls which offer
    left-foot gas pedal and dual brake controls. 
    
    Above lines were written in January 2000 and the URL was later removed, so check directly with Avis if you need left gas pedal.

  • Pedal extension is an adaptation for short-statured people or with back, hip, or knee problems. Portable extensions are offered by Easy Rider Pedal Extenders.

  • In 1993 the UN issued ''The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities''. Among other things they say: ''States should initiate measures to make places for recreation and sports, hotels, beaches, sports arenas, gym halls, etc., accessible to persons with disabilities... Tourist authorities, travel agencies, hotels, voluntary organizations and others involved in organizing recreational activities or travel opportunities should offer their services to all, taking into account the special needs of persons with disabilities.'' They also say that ''Although not a legally binding instrument, the Standard Rules represent a strong moral and political commitment of Governments to take action to attain equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities''...


Related links (random order):


General Car-Rental and Travel Advices.

Following tips, which are not specific to disabled drivers, are important for persons who rent cars for the first time or travel to a new destination.

Insurance

Insurance is a very tricky subject. In some cases the basic rental rate seems to be very reasonable, but when you come to pick up the keys, they offer an insurance cover you can't refuse, otherwise you may be liable to pay huge sums to a third party in case of an accident. If you take this cover, it may double the total fee. In a certain case I found that if the car is rented most of the time, the insurance alone may cover the price of a new car after 2 years or less. It seems that in the USA the situation may be even more complicated for a non-American visitor.

Driving License

Many countries respect driving licenses issued in other countries. Some require additional ``International`` license, which is a translation to several languages. Some countries dicourage driving by visitors, e.g. Bermuda.

Rates

Rates change from country to country even in the same class and car-rental company. In Europe some borders are open, so it may turn out cheaper to rent a car in a central European country and drive it to the desired destination. A possible exception is a very short business mission. Automatic transmission is considered luxury in Europe.

Car-related crime

Car-related crime is a problem with various levels of risks. Don't leave money and valuable things in the car. A station wagon/van without original luggage cover may also be a problem if you leave suitcases there. In some places you'll get a list of warnings and suggestions with the keys. Road-rage (driver's violence) exists even in some civilized countries. Avoid conflicts with other drivers even when you feel you are right.

Air Condition

Air Condition is considered luxury in most Europe. Driving a black car without air-condition in hot summer days may not be pleasent even in northern Europe. This is especially true for those who wear braces and other equipment.

Mobile phone

Mobile phone may be a good idea as a kind of insurance in case of breakdown, accident or other problems. Price range of ''air time'' is huge and should be checked close to travel date. Avoid usage while driving. In some cases cell-phones are cheaper to use than coin (or credit-card) operated public phones or hotel phones! Check also coverage in your destination. There may be no service in rural areas.
It is advisable to prepare in the phone's memory a list of taxi and breakdown service phone numbers. Some taxi companies keep the caller on-line so much time that the call costs more than the taxi ride. Check your exact location (street, building name/number) before calling them.

Please feel free to contact me at: .
Usefull information will be included in future versions.



Disclaimer:

  1. The author has no commercial interest in any of the mentioned companies. Their names / links are given only as illustration and service to potential customers.
  2. Some companies may have discontinued or changed services. The author takes no responsibility for consequences of such changes.
  3. The author takes no responsibility for any mis-haps occuring while using the above-mentioned services.
  4. The author will add reference to any relevant services brought to his attention in the coming updates to the site.
  5. The author cannot test all the services mentioned here personally.

Notes:

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Last update: 5/2019