November 10, 1998
Ms. Trish Farmer
Tennessee Committee for Employment
of People with Disabilities
Citizens Plaza Building, 11th Floor
400 Deaderick Street
Nashville, Tennessee 37248-6000
This letter is in response to your inquiry on behalf of General Motors to determine whether its dealerships must have hand controls on site in order for individuals with mobility impairments to test drive cars. You also inquired whether Saturn and General Motors should develop policies and procedures on how their dealerships handle requests to test drive hand-controlled vehicles.
The Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) of 1990 authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities that have rights or obligations under the Act. This response to your inquiry is intended to assist you in understanding the ADA's requirements. This letter, however, does not constitute a legal opinion, and it is not binding on the Department of Justice.
Title III of the ADA imposes certain obligations on places of public accommodation and those private entities that own, lease, lease to, or operate a place of public accommodation. The Act lists twelve types of entities that constitute places of public accommodation, including the category of sales establishments. Because car dealerships are sales establishments, they clearly fall within the definition of places of public accommodation. Whether GM and Saturn meet the ADA's definition of a public accommodation as a result of their relationship with their car dealerships, depends on whether GM and Saturn own, lease, lease to, or operate the dealerships. Pertinent facts to make this determination include the extent of control GM and Saturn have over the dealerships. Please see the enclosed title III regulation at section 36.104, on pages 470 and 587-590, for more information on the definition of a place of public accommodation.
The owners and operators of public accommodations may not discriminate on the basis of an individual's disability when providing goods and services to that person. To prevent such discrimination, the owners and operators must remove barriers to the accessibility of their goods and services if removal is "readily achievable," i.e., easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Determining if barrier removal is readily achievable requires a case-by-case analysis. Installation of vehicle hand controls is specifically listed in the title III regulation as an example of a step toward barrier removal. Therefore, the failure to provide hand controls is considered a barrier to access that must be removed if providing hand controls is readily achievable. Please see the title III regulation at section 36.304, on pages 476-477, for further discussion on the removal of barriers.
Expense is one factor that may properly be weighed in determining whether it is readily achievable for GM dealerships to obtain and install hand controls in cars test driven by individuals with disabilities. Because of the relative low cost to a dealership of having a set of hand controls available for installation, it is unlikely that the expense of hand controls themselves would make their installation not readily achievable. A related issue is whether certain hand control devices cause damage, rendering test driven cars less valuable upon sale. It may not be readily achievable to install hand controls for test drives if those hand controls caused such damage.
Safety considerations also may factor into the analysis.
To the extent that certain vehicle models cannot safely be fitted with hand controls, provision of hand controls on those vehicles is not required. For a safety concern to be considered legitimate, it must be based on actual risks to the safe operation of the services provided.
The time required to install hand controls and the availability of mechanics to perform the installation are other factors to be considered under the readily achievable standard. Unlike when renting cars, consumers normally do not make appointments in advance to visit car dealerships and test drive cars. However, an experienced mechanic generally takes only ten to fifteen minutes to install hand controls. A dealership that has trained mechanics on site during showroom hours likely could provide hand-controlled cars for a customer to test drive without any advance notice. The customer would simply have to wait for a short amount of time for the mechanic to install the hand controls on the car the customer desired to drive. If the customer wanted to test drive more than one car, he would have to wait while the mechanic removed the hand controls from the first car driven and then installed them on subsequent cars. In the case where a mechanic is not on site and available whenever a dealership showroom is open to customers, then hand-controlled test drives might only be readily achievable after some limited, legitimate amount of notice. Please see the enclosed title III regulation at section 36.104, on pages 470-471 and 591-592, for further discussion of factors affecting whether an action is readily achievable.
GM and its dealerships should note that the obligation to engage in readily achievable barrier removal is a continuing one. Over time, barrier removal that initially was not readily achievable may later be required because of changed circumstances. For example, a dealership that for the first time decides to hire full-time mechanics to work on Sundays may have to shorten or repeal the notice period it had required for customers seeking to test drive hand-controlled vehicles on Sundays.
I have enclosed a copy of the Settlement Agreement (and its Amendment) between the United States and Avis, Inc. It was reached after the Department of Justice investigated a complaint that Avis violated the ADA because it failed to provide a full range of hand-controlled vehicles to potential renters. The Agreement and Amendment specify numerous actions Avis is obligated to take under the ADA to make vehicle rental accessible to persons with disabilities.
I also have enclosed this Department's Title III Technical Assistance Manual, written to guide individuals and entities toward a fuller understanding of the ADA. Pertinent discussion is found at pages 1-5 (definition of public accommodation) and pages 30-34 (readily achievable barrier removal). In addition, please note illustration 3 (installation of hand controls in rental cars) on page 7 of the 1994 Supplement to the Technical Assistance Manual.
I hope this information helps you respond to the questions that you have received.Sincerely, John L. Wodatch Chief
Disability Rights Section
Title III Technical Assistance Manual and 1994 Supplement
Title III Regulations
Avis Settlement Agreement and Amendment >