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How accessible are electric cars and charging for disabled drivers

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We talked to Jon Brooks, mobility scooter user and electric car driver and enthusiast, for some helpful advice for disabled drivers thinking of going electric. 

Thanks for talking to us, Jon. First, how do you find your electric car?

I love it – the smoothness and the quietness of the ride. The driving experience is so much better – I’d never go back. We have a driveway, so I can charge at home. We have solar panels too, so it’s convenient, enjoyable and cost-efficient.  

Having said that, there are a few things to consider if you’re a disabled driver. 

Oh yes? Can you talk us through them?

Sure. Most people will be getting their cars through the Motability scheme, which allows you to swap your qualifying mobility allowance for a car, scooter or powered wheelchair. 

It’s important to make sure the one you choose is right for your particular needs. For instance, I need one with a certain height of driver’s seat, so it’s easy to get in and out and comfortable to drive. Some people need a hoist, so you need to make sure the car you pick can use one. 

And it might need to be able to fit a wheelchair or mobility scooter. I drive a scooter which fits into the boot of my BMW i3 – but there’s not really any more boot space. So when I upgrade, I’ll be looking for one with more room in the boot. 

Jon Brooks 

And is there plenty of choice?

Because of the current supply problems, the range of cars isn’t huge – but it gets updated every quarter. I hope that as the supply improves and the number of electric car models grow, there will be more choice available soon. 

With Motability cars, there’s an upfront cost to pay and for electric cars that ranges from around £100 to £7-8,000. It can be a lot – so budget’s definitely a consideration.  

Makes sense. What else should people consider?

Have a think about range. Work out the furthest journey you’re likely to make regularly and then go from there. Our daughter’s in Gatwick and we’re in Ramsgate, so I can drive there no problem – I just need a short top-up on the way back. Our car can do around 180 miles, slightly less in winter. Most electric cars these days have a really decent range. 

And how about charging?

Because I usually charge at home, it’s easy for me. I’d say if you can get a home charger, it’s an absolute no-brainer to get an electric car. I use public chargers now and again without any problems – though, again, I’m lucky as I usually have someone with me, who can operate the charger if it’s not accessible for me. 

If you’re going to regularly use public chargers, there’s more to think about. There are lots of accessible public charge-points out there and it’s generally easy enough to find out which ones will work for you. But some chargers aren’t accessible at all, or can make life tricky. If the bays are too narrow, there are high kerbs or the control panel is too high, for example, that charger might not work for a disabled driver. The weight of the cable can also be a big issue.  

Is anything happening to make charging more inclusive?

Yes, there are a few things. ChargeSafe was set up in 2021 to assess all the chargers in the UK and rank them in terms of safety and accessibility standards. It’s an ongoing process, but lots of the charge operators have signed up and they’re making good progress. You can also look at sites and there are various mapping apps. People add comments and you can often find feedback on whether there are any issues or problems with accessibility.  

The British Standards Institute (BSI) has just launched its new PAS 1899 Accessibility Standard. This sets out best practice around accessibility of public electric car chargers, and addresses things like kerb height, space and the weight of the cable. This has been set at a maximum of 6kgs – or the charge-point provider should ensure someone is on hand to help. 

Some operators have said that they’ll get around this by having a disabled electric car driver ring ahead and the forecourt attendant will come out to help. I’m a little concerned that this could be degrading for a disabled person, and could even open them up to abuse by other drivers if they’re waiting in a charging bay without charging. So we still have a way to go. 

Any final advice?

I’d say that, yes, there are a few more obstacles for disabled drivers as opposed to able-bodied drivers. But don’t let that put you off – driving an electric car is so much better. And things are improving all the time. 

I think anyone’s first port of call should be the Motability website. They’ve put together lots of videos and advice for disabled electric car drivers to help people choose the right car for their particular needs and see how driving electric might work for them.

Jon Brooks is a retired commercial boat skipper who was medically retired in 2013 and is now registered disabled. He got his first electric car three years ago and has never looked back. Jon is a great advocate for disabled drivers and an all-round electric car enthusiast. He runs the Kent EV owners’ group and co-founded EV Groups Nexus, and you’ll find him on Twitter @B_McBeardface and @Kent_EVs.