If the state did not admit any
obligation to provide a degree of care for the handicapped that included
assistance with transport, then discussions could centre on moral, ethical, or political principles. But these questions
have already been answered implicitly. The State accepts the obligation;
the question that has remained is how to discharge it.
It has been government policy for many years to provide a three-wheeled
petrol- or battery-driven car, known as a tricycle, for those people with sufficient ability to handle simple controls and react
adequately to other traffic. Despite the illusion that its three-point
support gives stability, the tricycle has been shown to be more unstable
than four-wheelers. In the year 2000, more than 250 of the most up-to-date
models overturned, and there are over 1,600 injured drivers whose claims for compensation are still pending.
The rising number of complaints and accidents resulting solely from the bad
design of the vehicle has prodded various governments into: (a) denying that
it was unsafe; (b) admitting it was unsafe but pleading it was the best
solution available; and (c) withdrawing the right of the disabled to the tricycle. This latter decision is the one
currently under review. Yet there are comparatively cheap and technically
sound solutions already available to this problem. Of course, with adequate
funds almost any degree of handicap can be met, but without going far beyond
the existing allocation, the 21,000 people at present driving tricycles
could be supplied with vehicles as safe as the four-wheeled equivalents.
What appears to be an economic difficulty is that the low number of drivers
involved does not provide a sufficiently large market for the benefits of
mass production. But this is a problem of concept rather than fact. A city car and one for the disabled have many requirements in
common. These include low fuel consumption, cheap servicing, simple controls,
small dimensions, and low cruising speeds. There is a mass market for a car
along these lines, and, once established, careful design at the planning
stage could make optional variations for the disabled cheap to incorporate.
For example, a conventional car with its passenger door hinged at the bottom
rather than at the side greatly modifies the problem of access of someone
who has to transfer from a wheelchair to a driver's seat. Again, variomatic
drive (now common in most cars) eliminates the difficulties of changing
Not only would a mass-produced car offer financial relief to a government
with limited resources; it might even provide a market for an industry now
beset with problems of under-employment and diminishing markets. Certainly,
the alternative of a weekly grant is a compromise that makes the worst of
the available options. In the long run it will be expensive, it will be
inadequate, and it will not meet the need of many handicapped people.