Rental Car Companies and Auto Dealerships Must Provide Vehicles With Hand Controls

Federal Judge Finds That CarMax Has a Legal Obligation under the ADA to Provide Vehicle Hand Controls for Test Driving Vehicles

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. A broad and sweeping piece of civil rights legislation, it has improved the day-to-day lives of persons with disabilities in countless ways.

Temporary Hand Controls
Temporary Hand Controls

One of the obligations that businesses have under this federal civil rights statute is to remove physical barriers to persons with disabilities. It is fairly easy to identify the most common tasks required under the law. Projects such as reserving parking spaces for persons with disabilities, installing ramps, installing grab bars at toilets, providing lowered transaction counters, and widening doorways quickly come to mind.But what about vehicles?

Generally, the ADA does not require car rental agencies or car dealerships to modify their vehicles. There is one exception that the Center for Disability Access has been advocating for and it has been a veritable slugfest. It has to do with vehicle hand controls. The Center for Disability Access is currently representing several wheelchair using clients who are in the market to purchase a new or used car. They discovered that although the car dealerships provide their customers with the opportunity to test drive the vehicles before deciding on the purchase, they will not accommodate wheelchair users who want to enjoy the same privilege. The solution is simple: ensure that your dealership has access to and will install temporary vehicle hand controls upon request.

Car Hand Controls
Car Hand Controls

A number of big car dealerships in Southern California have refused to make this accommodation. A couple of federal judges agree with those dealerships and have ruled that there is no such obligation under the ADA. On the other hand, the Center for Disability Access has been in touch with the Department of Justice and acquired a technical assistance/position letter from the Department of Justice that this is, in fact, a required accommodation under the ADA. On April 13, 2015, United States District Judge James Lorenz rejected CarMax’s argument that the ADA did not require installation of vehicle hand controls and ruled that the plaintiff’s claims were plausible on their face and the case could proceed. Ultimately, the issue will be decided by the Ninth Circuit and the Center for Disability Access is confident that it will secure yet another precedent setting and important civil rights victory for persons with disabilities. It is very likely that in five years, wheelchair users will be able to test drive vehicles at dealerships just as ambulatory persons do–although that is not the case today.

READ THE FULL RULING HERE: Federal Judge Order on Hand Controls

This fight demonstrates a couple of important things. First, although the ADA has been around for 25 years, even sophisticated businesses fail to comply with its mandates and routinely adopt restrictive and unfair interpretations of their obligations under the law. Second, change will not happen without advocacy and enforcement.

Car Dealership
Car Dealership

If you are a person with a disability and encounter barriers to access, whether policy based or architectural in nature, please do not hesitate to consider your role as an advocate. Your decision to challenge unfair and discriminatory practices benefits numerous people that you will never meet. You have an effective and willing partner in this endeavor. The Center for Disability Access has been litigating these cases for two full decades. Whether it be consultation or representation, we represent our clients for free. Please don’t hesitate to call the Center to explore or discuss any issues that you have encountered.


6 thoughts on “Rental Car Companies and Auto Dealerships Must Provide Vehicles With Hand Controls

    • Mark Potter Reply

      It was a long hard fight. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in our favor and all the cases were eventually resolved satisfactorily.

  1. Robert Loomis Reply

    What good are the hand controls if you can’t get your wheelchair in and out of the vehicle? I have two sons with Cerebral Palsy with one wheelchair bound I’m trying to rent a vehicle with a lift and nobody has one. Definitely not fair because we can’t go on vacation without one. The ADA says businesses have to accommodate wheelchairs but not car rental businesses?

    • Mark Potter Reply

      Hi Robert, It is expensive to rent specially equipped vans with ramps and that is if they are available; they are not available for rent in most areas. I get it. The ADA does not require rental car companies to provide vehicles that are specially modified beyond hand controls. We can only enforce the law for you. We were successful in expanding the law to require car dealerships to provide hand controls, but won’t be able to expand it to provide ramps or lift vehicles. Sorry about that. Please let me know if there is anything else we can help you with. Thanks.

  2. Anonymous Reply

    Will I have to sit a test if I have to use a hand control car.all though I can drive.

    • Mark Potter Reply

      Other than needing to give notice so they can get the hand controls installed, you should be treated like any other customer. If other customers don’t need to take a test before test driving, you shouldn’t have to either.

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