When my Dad was in rehab after open heart surgery, one of his biggest questions was “when can I drive again?” It struck me that, with everything else he had going on, getting back behind the wheel was practically his top priority. Why? Because driving equals independence and freedom. Remember when you first got your license and you would go for long drives without much purpose, just to be out on the road? The possibilities were infinite!
This isn’t an issue just for those 80+, but is a key focus for everyone. Not only is the question “can I keep driving,” but for some people they have to ask “should my loved one keep driving? Is there a safety risk for them and for others?” Whether you’re aging, caring for someone who is aging, dealing with a challenge such as low vision or Parkinson’s, or have recently started recovery from an injury or surgery, driver safety should always be a key focus.
For me, I wasn’t sure when (or if,) my Dad would be able to start driving again. I also didn’t really want my sister and I to be the ones to have to tell him that he couldn’t drive anymore, if that were the case. So I started doing some research. It turns out, there are some great resources for people in just this situation.
Driver Safety Specialists
There is a group of Occupational Therapists who specialize in driver safety or “driving rehabilitation services”. Theirs is generally a multi-pronged approach, starting with a clinical and simulated situation evaluation. As Occupational Therapists, these professionals are trained to use a variety of tools to evaluate things like reflexes and response rate, vision impairment and cognitive health.
After the clinical assessment is complete, there will be an on-road evaluation where the therapist rides with the patient driving, evaluating for all the key criteria necessary to be safe on the road. If the evaluation is being done for someone recovering from or adjusting to a new medical situation that requires adaptive equipment, that will be included in the on-road evaluation.
Once the evaluations have been done, there are several paths that can be taken. One is that the driver is performing at an acceptable level already, and no further work needs to be done. Secondly, the therapist could identify specific training that the driver needs to go through in order to be safe. Finally, the therapist may have to recommend that the driver no longer drive as their performance causes a danger to themselves and others.
If your situation is that you have adaptive equipment that you’re learning to work with, the best thing is to take training so that you can learn from the OT how to best work with that equipment in a manner that keeps you and those around you safe. Additionally, many of these providers can also help with vehicle modifications for your adaptive equipment.
Generally, a physician will refer a patient to a driver safety OT by providing a prescription. However, these services are available to anyone so if you feel that you or your loved one would benefit from this type of evaluation, there is nothing to stop you from reaching out an arranging this yourself.
Driver Safety Resources
You can find great resources and recommendations at these two sites:
In our case, we never ended up using any of these resources as Dad passed away before we got to that point. But I was certainly glad to have found them and known that if we needed it, there were some wonderful professionals who could help him out.
When the goal is freedom, combined with safety, don’t take anything for granted. Use the resources available to you to ensure you are doing what’s best for yourself and those around you.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I have not and will not verify or investigate the information supplied by third parties.
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