Driving Assessment for Individuals with a Handicap
The ability to drive is usually a crucial part of a person’s life. Driving allows us more freedom and flexibility to independently attend to and complete the activities and tasks we choose to engage in. It enables us to be more connected with our family, friends and the wider community, as well as ensures that we can participate in employment, study or other vocational tasks as we prefer. However, often people forget the importance of driving in our lives and take it for granted until circumstances change and your ability to drive is being questioned. This article explores handicap driving and what is required when there are concerns about an individual’s medical fitness to drive.
A handicap is any condition or disability (physical, mental or emotional) that interferes with an individual’s regular functioning. Medical conditions that can significantly affect an individual’s ability to drive safely can include:
- Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Memory problems
- Neurological disorders
- Brain injury
- Spinal injury
- Physical injury
- Mental health issues, e.g. anxiety
- Cerebral palsy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Congenital conditions
- Developmental disorders
If you have a serious or long-term medical condition, injury, illness or disability, you must consult with your treating Doctor or Specialist before starting to drive. Your Doctor will complete appropriate medical observations and assessments with you and discuss your driving goals. It is a legal requirement that the RMS is notified of your condition, and failure to do so may result in fines, legal prosecution or loss of insurance.
To determine whether your medical condition or handicap affects your ability to drive in line with RMS standards, an Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment may be recommended by your Doctor. If your Doctor is unsure how your medical condition may affect your handicapped driving, he/she will refer you for this assessment. The Occupational Therapy driving assessment is the conventional process endorsed by the RMS to determine a person’s suitability to drive.
Once you have been referred to Modified Driving Solutions, our Occupational Therapists (OT) will assess your ability to drive safely as well as determine if you require any driving aids or vehicle modifications. The costs involved in the assessment will vary depending on the person’s location, personal situation, medical condition and need for vehicle modifications.
The Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment consists of two parts:
- Off-road Assessment: The OT will attend your residence and conduct a physical, cognitive and visual screen, as well as a medical history. This assessment will identify any deficits you have due to your medical condition or handicap that affects your driving ability. For physical injuries or disabilities that interfere with your ability to physically control a vehicle (i.e. any deficits in your arms, hands and/or feet), the OT may also identify any vehicle modifications or aids you require for the On-road Assessment.
- On-road Assessment: You will drive a vehicle with dual controls, with any specified modifications or aids (identified in the Off-road Assessment) installed. The OT and a Driving Instructor (trained in driver rehabilitation) will conduct the assessment. The assessment will take place in your local area and you will be asked to drive in all forms of traffic, from simple conditions to complex and busy traffic environments. The assessment will focus on the deficits noted from the Off-road Assessment, and may also pick up other issues or difficulties. The assessment will determine if your medical condition or handicap impacts on your ability to drive safely, and if modifications are required to continue driving.
Possible outcomes of the Driving Assessment
Both parts of the assessment usually take approximately 2 hours in total. After the assessment, the OT will go over with you how you performed and their clinical observations. They will also speak about what the next part of the process will involve for you to continue handicap driving.
There are three possible outcomes following the assessment:
- The assessment determines that you have the visual, cognitive and physical capacity to drive safely according to RMS guidelines, with no requirement for driving aids or modifications. Your licence will be upgraded to a full unrestricted licence.
- The assessment determines that you have the capacity to drive, however will require additional lessons with a Driving Instructor trained in driver rehabilitation. If significant errors were identified from the driving assessment, the OT may recommend that you need driving lessons that will aim to improve in these areas. The lessons will have specific goals that you must achieve, and your progress will be monitored by the OT and Driving Instructor. The amount of lessons recommended by the OT varies between individuals. For some physical disabilities such as spinal injury, limb weakness or significant amputations, a driving aid or modification may be necessary – please see this page for more information (link page).
- The assessment determines that you do not possess the visual, cognitive or physical capacity to drive safely and according to RMS guidelines, and additional lessons nor vehicle modifications will be of any benefit. Your licence will be cancelled.
It is entirely possible for people with medical conditions or disability to continue handicap driving. However, as all road users’ safety is of paramount concern, there is a thorough process to ensure that all licence holders are medically equipped to drive. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the OT driving assessment, you should speak with the OT for greater clarification. Alternatively, you can also contact the RMS for more information regarding the process involved for appealing any decisions.