Q. We recently bought a van from a used car lot. Since I use a wheelchair and needed to get hand controls installed at a place that has certified installers, I called a company that sells them to get a quote. They said they would not do the work unless I gave them a certificate from my driving school showing that I am legal to drive with hand controls. My driving school closed about 15 years ago, and the back of my driver’s license already states that I must drive with hand controls.
A nearby dealer also said that they would not do the hand control installation unless I have the training, and it doesn’t matter that my current sedan has them. Fortunately, I found another business that did the installation, without any problems or additional documentation of training beyond what was on my driver’s license.
When did this start happening? Is this a recent requirement? I have since heard that it is a state law. I’ve had five prior vehicles and a clean driving record and never been challenged in this manner. What advice would you give if this should happen again?
— Frustrated in California
A. Seeking an answer for you required an extensive search involving dozens of individuals who drive with hand controls or their family members, several companies that install hand controls, and some driver rehabilitation specialists. It turns out that you are not alone in your frustrations, and it also seems that your situation was mishandled by the company you contacted initially.
First, know that you did the right thing by exercising the power of the consumer and finding another company to do the work. While that would obviously be more difficult for people living in rural areas, your negative experience can be shared with your circle of friends so they can take that into consideration when searching for someone to do similar work on their vehicles in the future. There should be financial consequences for poor customer service.
As a customer, you also have the right to ask why a particular decision is being made by the business that is refusing to serve you. If they say it is because of some vague law or similar policy, ask to see a copy of it. Should the denial originate from an employee, ask to speak to the manager. The situation you faced can occur because individuals share misinformation.
Several respondents on NEW MOBILITY’s Facebook page stated that they had faced similar discrimination, but those who were told that it was because of some rule or “law” did not provide enough information to actually identify such a law. State or provincial driver’s license agencies do have regulations regarding hand controls, but usually they involve only a doctor’s approval and an endorsement on the driver’s license.
The specialists I discussed this with said it is common practice to request an evaluation by a driver rehab specialist under certain circumstances. These include: if someone has not driven with hand controls for an extended period; is moving their hand controls to a new type of vehicle; has a progressive condition which might impact strength or driving functions; or is changing the type of hand controls that they use. Since you were switching from a sedan to a van with the same hand controls, a company doing the installation might be justified in requesting an evaluation by a DRS. They should also be willing to explain their decision to you if requested.
A DRS may be affiliated with a driving school, but an evaluation is different than driver training. To earn their certification, DRS candidates are tested by the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists to assess the following: If a person is capable of driving, if additional driver training is necessary, and to determine the length of training needed. A driver evaluation generally consists of a clinical assessment and a behind-the-wheel assessment. If the vehicle modifications or hand controls are being funded by a government agency (such as Voc Rehab, Veterans Affairs or workers comp), they usually require a DRS evaluation to assure that they are supporting installation of the proper assistive equipment.
The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association is the organization that includes most of the companies that sell modified vehicles and/or install hand controls and similar assistive devices. While they may request an evaluation first, I could find nothing in the NMEDA guidelines, or those of the ADED, that would prevent a dealership from complying with your request to install hand controls in your van.