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Those who still believe that people with disabilities are not capable of driving are simply unfamiliar with the nature of disabilities and the tremendous advances in modern technology that now enables more people with disabilities than ever to drive.
Insurance providers, companies whose very success is dependent upon an ability to determine how much risk a given driver poses, are today just as likely to provide coverage for a competent driver with a disability as they are a driver with no disabilities. In fact, since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted, discrimination against individuals with disabilities has been prohibited in all areas of American life, including transportation.
If you have a disability and are concerned about your ability to obtain car insurance, you should put your worries to rest. Understand, however, that even with the ADA’s protections, insurance companies base their policies on additional risk and cost factors. While some of these factors, like the kind of car you drive, your gender and your driving history have nothing to do with your disability, other less frequently considered factors may be linked to physical handicaps. To help you find the best coverage possible and keep your costs down, here are some things you should know.
Getting car insurance with a disability
Though insurance providers cannot discriminate against applicants with disabilities by charging exorbitant premiums, it is still possible that your disability may require additional coverage. This isn’t always because of the disability itself, but rather because of the upgrades that may be required for your vehicle as a result of your disability. Some disabilities that fall into that category are:
- Paralysis: The addition of a wheelchair lift could increase the value of your car, thus increasing your premiums.
- Epilepsy or fainting spells: You may be considered a greater risk.
- Vision impairment: You may be considered to have added risk.
- Hearing impairment: You may have to upgrade your vehicle with alert hearing devices.
Again, in a perfect world, all premiums would be the same, but there are instances where disabilities can cause you to pay higher rates. To protect yourself against this, there are a couple of things that you should consider when looking into car insurance with a disability.
For one, always do your homework. Shopping around for the best quote from multiple insurance providers is the best way to make sure that you’re getting the best value given your circumstances.
Another thing to look out for is a rebate. Often, insurance providers or car manufacturers are willing to work with clients and provide a rebate based on modifications or upgrades made to your vehicle. Though you may end up paying more in premiums, you can offset those expenses with discounts and rebates from your insurer or car manufacturer.
Other considerations when searching for car insurance with a disability
Below are a few other things to keep in mind when seeking out auto insurance as a driver with a disability.
Medical clearance to drive
Most disabled drivers don’t need medical approval to get behind the wheel. Your local DMV will assess your fitness for driving and make a judgment call regarding any limitations that they see fit to put on your license. Having said that, many insurance providers will request written clearance from a medical professional noting that you pose no risk to others.
If your disability affects your driving, your provider might raise your premium or have you take action to lower the risk that you pose to yourself or others. This may involve further medical attention, outfitting your car with the necessary technology to make you a safer driver or some form of a driver rehabilitation program wherein an occupational therapist will decide the best course of action for you moving forward.
If you equip your vehicle with expensive technology to facilitate driving with a disability, you may need added insurance. In the event of an accident, the costs to fix or replace such expensive upgrades may not be covered entirely by your existing policy. By increasing your coverage level, you can make sure that you don’t have to pay out of pocket for such costs.
Honesty when applying
When looking for an insurance provider, be honest about whether your disability affects your safety. When insurers ask about your medical history or current medical condition, your responses—along with any medical assessment you undergo—impact your premiums. If you are dishonest about your current fitness level and later get in an accident, your provider could drop you if it can be proven that you weren’t honest about your medical condition and your accident can be traced back to your disability.
Modifying your vehicle
One way to put yourself in the best position to receive a fair premium is to make sure that your vehicle is adequately outfitted with all of the technology necessary based on the circumstances of your disability. Though not always the case, many providers will insist that you make the necessary modifications to your car as proof that you pose no risk behind the wheel.
These requirements will vary from one provider to the next. Check with each so you know exactly where you stand. Below are a list of common modifications as well as a rough estimate of what they may cost to have installed:
- Emergency brake extension: $80
- Pedal extenders: $180
- Steering knob: $90-175
- Manual wheelchair ramp: $100-300
- Left foot accelerator: $100-300
- Mechanical hand control: $250+
- Transfer seats: $3,300
- Wheelchair lift: $1,500-14,000
How to finance vehicle modifications
Determining which modifications that you make to your car will and will not be covered by your provider tends to be a case-by-case exercise. Check before you splurge on expensive equipment that you may end up having to cover out of pocket. Generally, however, insurers tend to be more willing to cover modifications such as steering devices, wheelchair restraints and lifts, hand controls and power-assisted seats.
On the other hand, recognize that the coverage your insurer provides is often dependent on your having a policy that includes collision and comprehensive coverage. Without these components, your provider is unlikely to cover any upgrades that you make to your vehicle—no matter how inexpensive they may be.
If you are unable to get your provider to cover the modifications that you make, you still have a few other options on the table to help you pay for any changes needed on your vehicle. Worker’s compensation, for example, may pay for the cost of any new equipment you need as long as you can prove that your disability is the result of an accident suffered while on the job. Securing this result involves an often complex legal process, however, and a positive outcome is not assured.
There are also non-profit organizations that advocate for individuals with disabilities that often help cover some or all of the costs associated with vehicle modification. By reaching out to your state government office that handles services for people with disabilities, you can learn more about such organizations in your area.
Aside from this, a number of car manufacturers offer rebates up to $1,000 on vehicle modifications, as long as the vehicle being modified is less than one year old. Local dealerships, such as the ones found under the ‘resources’ section of this NHTSA brochure often can point you in the right direction in that regard.
If all else fails, look into your state’s laws for vehicle modification. Often, states will waive the sales tax on such changes if you can provide a doctor’s prescription for their use while others may view the modifications as a tax-deductible expenditure. A qualified tax professional can give you more information.
Even though your insurance provider may not pay for all of the costs associated with modifications that you make on your vehicle, you may still be able to find other resources that can help finance any changes you make. You will want to research both direct funding grants and loan options.
Always check with any local organizations that may assist with grants for funding modifications to your vehicle. If funding is not readily available, consider a loan. Start with a simple google search. Here are some examples of sources to assist as well:
- The Adaptive Driving Alliance: This gives a broad look at national organizations that may assist in making decisions regarding vehicle modification and funding and financing options;
- The Mobility Resource: A very useful guide that gives you a state by state look at “various grants and other assistance programs” for vehicle modification and other assistance for people with disabilities;
- The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association: A good general guide to a variety of resources for funding as well as loans; and
- Ability Expo: An ambitious undertaking, this site attempts to bring “necessary products and services together under one roof for the community of people with disabilities, their families, caregivers, seniors and healthcare professionals”. Included in its listings are a number of good resources for seeking funding for vehicle modifications.
If you’re a veteran in need of modifications, reach out to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for information about making changes to your vehicle. They can connect you with insurance providers that give discounts and help you with your application for adaptive equipment.
Plan to Achieve Self Support (P.A.S.S.) is a social security administration that works with individuals with disabilities to help them save money for the equipment they need so that they can get back to work.
If you end up unable to purchase the equipment necessary to make modifications to your car, the State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation is a local resource that can help you find aid for transportation to and from work. This is also a good stopgap measure if your vehicle is in the shop for modifications and you have no other mode of transportation.
While the ADA’s enactment thirty years ago initiated the legal effort to make the world more accessible to people with disabilities, advancements in technology have accelerated the process. It is far easier today for the disabled to operate motor vehicles than ever. Ironically, the pandemic, which has forced everyone to deal with many of the accessibility difficulties the disabled have always experienced, has generated an increased awareness of the importance of making life more accessible for people with disabilities.
Despite the fact that there will always likely be situations that will understandably make it more difficult for people with disabilities to obtain auto insurance, that gap is narrowing. Increased awareness has also brought with it a proliferation of resources to assist people with disabilities in understanding the best course for modifying vehicles and where to go to find financial assistance to complete the task.