Driving is more than a convenience; it’s a passport to independence. Yet, for many individuals facing medical conditions or disabilities, this essential freedom can seem out of reach. Enter occupational therapy (OT), a critical player in the drive toward independence and enhancing a person’s driving skills.

Here’s an in-depth look at how driver trained occupational therapists are pivotal in the driving evaluation landscape.

Understanding Driving Assessments

Driving assessments are not just tests; they are a clinical evaluation that weighs both the technical and medical aspects of operating a vehicle, to make sure a person is driving safely. Driver trained occupational therapists specialise in assessing driver readiness and providing the necessary adjuncts for a driving care plan that’s tailored to individual needs.

The process of assessment involves exploring a person’s physical and cognitive abilities, clinical history, and an on-road evaluation. These assessments are crafted not to bar individuals from driving but to ensure that their experience – and the safety of fellow road users – is never compromised.

Assessing Fitness to Drive

If you’re preparing for a driving assessment, it’s important to know what’s under the microscope. A person’s doctor may request a driving assessment to determine their capability to operate a vehicle safely and to legal standards. The RMS (Transport for NSW) may issue a notice requiring a medical fitness assessment to maintain driving privileges. The notification will detail specifics such as the required type of medical professional to consult (e.g. GP or specialist), the exact date by which the assessment must be completed, and if a OT driving test is also necessary.

Physical capabilities, such as vision, limb movement, and coordination, are assessed. Cognitive functions, from attention to decision-making, are also examined as integral to safe driving.

Common Conditions Necessitating an OT Driving Assessment

  • Vision impairment, such as cataracts or glaucoma
  • Musculoskeletal disorders, including severe arthritis and limb amputations
  • Neurological conditions like stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy (CP) or Parkinson’s disease
  • Cognitive impairments, including dementia, Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injuries
  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety, mood disorders and psychotic illnesses
  • Age-related degeneration impacting motor skills and reaction time
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder, affecting communication, behaviour, and social interactions which may influence driving
  • Various cognitive conditions that can impair judgment, memory, and problem-solving skills essential for safe driving

These are common conditions often associated with OT driving assessments, but is not an exhaustive list. Ultimately, if a doctor or the RMS is concerned about a person’s medical fitness to drive, they can request an assessment even if there is no clear diagnosis. For example, if a person has had a lengthy hospital admission, they may be asked to undergo an assessment.

Occupational Therapy Interventions

The arsenal against driving challenges isn’t short on tools. Occupational therapists devise strategies tailored to each individual, aiming to promote safety and confidence behind the wheel. These interventions may be as simple as specialised driving techniques or as complex as custom vehicle adaptations.

For drivers with physical disabilities or physical limitations, the occupational therapist prescribes vehicle modifications ensuring that the driver can safely operate a vehicle to RMS standards. Examples of vehicle modifications include:

  • Various types of and controls for accelerators and brakes
  • Steering wheel aids, such as knob spinners for one-handed steering
  • Adaptive switches for turn signals, wipers, and headlights
  • Adaptive mirrors for drivers with limited neck mobility
  • Seating adaptations, including swivel seats and additional support
  • Wheelchair lifts and hoists
  • Ramps in vans (for drivers in wheelchairs)

When modifications or adaptive equipment are prescribed, the person will require a driver rehabilitation program to learn to drive safely in all forms of traffic.

For people with cognitive conditions, the OT can recommend specialised driving lessons to help improve the person’s driving performance. Personalised driving lessons focus on specific challenges noted in the assessment, equipping individuals with skills and strategies for safer driving.

RMS disability driving test

The RMS disability driving test is a practical, on-road test conducted to evaluate whether drivers with disabilities can safely operate a vehicle to legal standards. This can be required by RMS after the person passes the OT assessment. This test is administered by a qualified RMS assessor, and focuses on practical ability rather than medical diagnosis, ensuring drivers meet the safety rules and standards required by law. This is commonly required when a person has recently learned to drive with vehicle modifications to upgrade their licence. The ultimate objective is to uphold road safety while supporting the driver’s independence.

Driving Assessments under NDIS

Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) recognises the fundamental need for mobility in fostering independence. Through a meticulous evaluation of physical and cognitive abilities, occupational therapists determine whether an individual can drive, if adaptations are necessary, or if they require specialised driving instruction. These costs can be covered by participants’ NDIS funding.

For those needing further assistance, NDIS can also provide driver rehabilitation programs tailored to the unique requirements of drivers with disabilities. This covers education in the use of adaptive technologies and modified driving techniques, which is essential in supporting participants to maintain or gain independence. Driving lessons are designed to build confidence and ensure safety on the road, enabling individuals to participate fully in their communities. The NDIS’s role in this process underscores its commitment to practical, results-driven support, ensuring that each person’s path to independence is not only conceptualised but realised.

Driving Forward with OT

The journey to independent driving is a formidable one, but with occupational therapy, it is far from insurmountable. The OT’s role in a driving assessment is one of empowerment – tailored support to ensure one’s road journey is both feasible and safe. Professional guidance is not just recommended; it’s a prudent step on the path to driving independence.

For those facing a driving assessment, remember that you’re not alone. Reach out to Modified Driving Solutions for the insight and tools to navigate this important step. After all, independence isn’t a one-off achievement, and driving is often at the heart of that assertion.

Learn more about our NDIS driving assessments.

Contact us today to get started.