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  • Pete Miller

Hand Controls – Should you go Electronic?

Let’s face it, cars are doing incredible things in their cockpits these days; boring old dials are now quickly replaced by high resolution screens and clever computers. What used to be a tacho, a speedo and an odo now takes calls, tells you the weather, plays podcasts, navigates, monitors your systems and – oh - tells your speed and mileage too!

So, if hand controls are part of your driving routine does anything need to change when you get that fancy new car?

To begin this story, let’s talk about the ‘old style’ manual driving controls. All hand controls use a spring loaded handle to push a rod inwards to activate the brake pedal. ‘Push radial’ systems use that same lever to control the accelerator by moving it not only in and out for braking, but also up and down for acceleration. It achieves this by way of a second rod on the lever that attaches to the accelerator pedal.

The other manual hand control option is a ‘Twist-grip’ hand control that have what can only be described as a motorbike-type accelerator on the brake lever.

Can you still use manual hand controls in modern cars?

Well, err.....sometimes.

“Why?”, I hear you ask. Read on!

Driver knee air bags are becoming increasingly common in cars and the two rods used by the ‘push radial' hand control system’ can interfere with the action of the air bags. So if your car has knee air bags, I’m sorry to say that push radial hand controls are off the menu. But if you still like the idea of manual hand controls, then ‘twist-grip’ controls can still be used…but there’s another consideration; Twist Grip hand controls accelerate by using a cable to ‘pull down’ on your accelerator pedal. How easy or possible this is to achieve in your new car depends on what your accelerator pedal is constructed from and how the pedal physically operates. A physical inspection of your car is the only reliable way to be sure that everything is OK here.

"Oh, and just one thing; remember that cables do wear out with use. Be sure to make provision for regular checks and maintenance if you have a twist grip hand control system on your car."

Alrighty then! Time to talk about electronic hand controls….

A true electronic hand control system plugs into the ‘brain’ of your car and allows features such as acceleration, indicators, lights and horn to be operated using triggers and buttons. When the system is installed, your car’s computer is programmed to recognise the signals from the hand control unit in addition to its regular controls. When the car is started the driver simply chooses whether to use the factory controls or hand controls for this trip. This is handy if you have multiple drivers. The choice is up to them!

Remember that an electronic hand control system will still use a physical lever and single rod system to apply the brakes. It’s a safety thing. Good news is this rod shouldn’t get in the way of any driver knee air bags. These systems can be quite clever, even offering a wireless solution.

One advantage of electronic hand control systems is that all the controls you need can be found in the one place. This makes it easy, for example, to use your indicators to exit a roundabout while still being in control of braking and accelerating – with your free hand still controlling the steering wheel.

For some people, electronic hand controls may have a few minor downsides. First of all, the electronic systems cost more than the manual systems and they take more effort to integrate into your car's computer. Secondly, if there’s a fault with your car’s computer or your control’s programming, this can cause your hand controls to go on the fritz – and this can be frustrating. It’s not common but it can happen.

So what’s the best hand control option for you? Easy; choose the system you feel most comfortable with, that’s compatible with your car and fits your budget.

If you need to be assessed as a driver to use hand controls (a licensing requirement in most if not all states of Australia), or if you need help choosing the right controls then you can always find a Driver Trained Occupational Therapist in your state. We can always help you find one if you need.

And of course, if you'd like to know what hand control options are suitable for your car, you can always call us to find out.

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