Seats and seating
Look for: the right seat
Low seats mean more bending of your ankles, knees and hips. Higher seats mean you don't have to drop down too far or struggle to get up again. Everyone is different but seats which are between 50 and 55cm from the ground suit most people, including wheelchair users. Try out the seat from both road and kerb level.
Features found on some cars:
- Seats which adjust up and down help you get in and out and find a comfortable driving position. Available in most manufacturers' ranges, at least for the driver's seat. Electrically adjustable seats are fairly easy to find on more expensive cars.
- Some seats have memory settings. A single button adjusts the seat to your preferred settings. Found on a wide range of more expensive cars.
- Some 2-door cars have an easy entry system. The front passenger seat moves forward automatically to give easier access to the rear seats.
- Most cars now have height adjustable seat belts, so there is more chance of a comfortable and safe fit.
- Heated seats are available on an increasing number of cars, as are ventilated seats that allow air to circulate and reduce stickiness.
- Seats with manually adjustable lumbar support are available on some cars; electric on fewer models.
The Mercedes seat on the left has powered adjustment for multiple seat settings.
Adaptations which may help
- An existing car seat can be raised (expect to pay around £300), or adapted so that its height is electronically adjustable (from £900) from adaptation firms.
Adaptations to help you get in and out
A swivelling cushion helps you turn round on the car seat. It makes the seat higher and if it can't be locked in place, you may feel unstable going round corners. Make sure it is firmly secured to the car seat. Mostly £20 - £80 from general aids suppliers. Some people find it useful to sit on a plastic bag to help slide on to the seat and round to face forwards. Remove it during the journey so you do not slip about.
The swivelling cushion in this picture works like a turntable.
If getting into a seat and turning to face forward is difficult, a swivelling seat may help. Some turn 90 to face out of the car, some slide out over the sill and some models turn a full 180, which makes transferring from a wheelchair easier. They are more suitable for 2-door cars because the doors are wider. If you want to use one with a 4-door car, check with the supplier. If you have stiff legs make sure the swivel seat slides back far enough for you to get in. From adaptation firms, from around £850; more for models which swivel 180. Note that swivelling seats do not help you stand up, although you will be starting from a higher position. Check that you will have enough headroom once the seat is fitted. It may be possible to convert an existing seat in various ways - heightened, made to move up and down or swivel, for example. Some can be powered. From £800+ from adaptation firms.
A swivelling seat can make getting into a car much easier. The picture on the left shows the Autoadapt Turnout.
A lift can be fitted between the door and the car seat. You slide on, swing round to face out and the lift gently rises until you are in a near standing position or until you stop it. There are various types. With some you have to remove the lifting arm before you can shut the door. From around £800.
A simpler device is the Handybar. It inserts into the door catch and provides a handhold as you move in and out of the car. It has a glass-breaker and seatbelt cutter for emergencies. Around £25 from general aids suppliers.
The Handybar provides a handhold when getting in and out.
Other adaptations to the seat
Nearly two-thirds of adults in the UK have had experience of back pain. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has a leaflet Take the pain out of driving which has information about choosing a car seat and driving posture. You can download it from www.csp.org.uk (search for the title under publications), or phone 020 7306 6666.
There is a large range of cushions and backrests designed to be used in cars. Ranging from simple pads and rolls for lumbar support to shaped inserts which fit on to the car seat. Some are designed to level out the angle of the seat squab (the part you sit on). From £15-£70+ depending on type and material. From adaptation firms, general aids suppliers and specialists - under orthopaedic goods in a classified phone book.
Car seats can be replaced with seats from specialist manufacturers. There is a wide range available. Replacement seats can move up, down, back and forwards under power. The variety of shapes available means they can also give good support. For example, some seats have adjustable lumbar support and some are longer to give your legs more support. Some have suspension to reduce vibration. From adaptation firms, £400- £2,000+ depending on options.
This Recaro replacement seat has electrically adjustable position, tilt and lumbar support. Climate control and other options are possible.
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