Handicap driving has evolved over the years
Handicap driving has evolved over the years. As society has changed, so have the needs of disabled drivers. The first handicapped drivers were wheelchair users and used specially designed tricycles. At first, this required someone to manually push the tricycle. Soon, technology evolved and motors were added to the tricycle.
Before the 20th century, there were no special laws or regulations for handicapped drivers. However, as more and more people with disabilities drove, standardized processes and regulations were adapted. In NSW, the RMS as the licencing body, must be notified of any medical issue that may impact on one’s driving. If the person requires vehicle modifications due to their physical disability, there is a clear process to ensure they are driving safely. Today, thanks to advancements in technology, most physical deficits can be overcome by vehicle modifications. These modifications can be adapted and installed in most vehicles by qualified vehicle modifiers.
Prescribing vehicle modifications in NSW
There are guidelines in NSW regarding how physical conditions and disabilities may impact on driving. This process involves the prescription of vehicle modifications and regular assessment and monitoring of the driver’s medical condition. As with any medical condition in relation to driving, the first step is to obtain a medical assessment. It is the licence holder’s primary responsibility to tell the RMS of their condition or disability. The person’s doctor also commonly makes this notification, and a thorough medical assessment is completed. The doctor will fill out the RMS medical fitness to drive form. This process can include referring onto other specialists or recommending further testing. For example, it is common for stroke patients to be referred to a neurologist for further assessment to determine if the person can return to driving. It is also important to note that a doctor has the authorization to cancel someone’s driver’s licence due to medical reasons.
Once the medical clearance has been obtained, the doctor or RMS may request that the person undertakes an Occupational Therapy (OT) driving assessment. For significant physical deficits, it is common for the assessment to prescribe necessary vehicle modifications. This is because doctors do not observe the person driving, while this is the specialized role of the Driver Trained OT.
In the OT driving assessment, the person will trial appropriate vehicle modifications and will often require several lessons to drive safely with the modifications. Once they are confident that they are driving safely in all forms of traffic, they will undergo the RMS disability driving test. Assuming they pass this test, they cannot legally drive without their prescribed modifications.