Do you need an OT driving assessment?
An occupational therapy (OT) driving assessment is required when someone has a medical diagnosis that potentially alters or influences their capacity to drive safely. In NSW, it is your responsibility to inform the RMS of any condition that may affect your driving ability. However, it is also common for a person’s doctor or family member to inform the RMS of this, and doctors (or other health professionals) often make this decision on behalf of the person. Your doctor might submit the ‘fitness to drive’ form to the RMS, indicating the need for you to attend a driving assessment. It is important to remember that driving is a big responsibility, and anything that may affect your driving will potentially place your safety and the safety of others at risk.
Some common medical conditions that usually require an OT driving assessment include:
- Heart attack
- Brain injury
- Physical injuries
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amputated limbs
- Cognitive conditions such as intellectual disability or Autism
- Spina bifida
- Cerebral palsy
I am an NDIS participant – can I drive?
The NDIS commenced full rollout in 2016 in NSW. Prior to the scheme, many people with disabilities did not attempt to drive as they were unable to afford driving lessons and/or the necessary vehicle modifications. Today, however, a person with an approved NDIS plan may utilise this funding to obtain their licence, as their funding may cover driving lessons and vehicle modifications.
For an individual who has not held a licence or driven before, the first step is to obtain your learner’s licence. You must declare your disability/medical condition to the RMS when you apply for the driver knowledge test. Once you pass the test and achieve your learner licence, you may then use your NDIS funding to pay for some driving lessons.
If you are already driving or have previously driven and recently became diagnosed with a medical condition affecting your driving, you will first need medical clearance from your doctor to return to driving. You can then complete the OT driving assessment, using your NDIS funding to pay for the assessment and any modifications you may need.
What specific NDIS funding do I need?
For driving lessons and an OT driving assessment, you will need funding in the ‘CB daily activity’ (Improved daily living) category of NDIS funding. For vehicle modifications, funding is required in the ‘Assistive technology’ category. When you apply for NDIS funding, inform your planner/coordinator of your goals to drive.
OT driving assessment in more detail
The purpose of the OT driving assessment is to determine if a person’s medical condition or disability is impacting on their driving performance, to ensure that they can drive safely and to RMS standards. The content below is applicable to C class vehicles, though it is a similar process for other licence types (e.g. trucks or commercial vehicles).
There are two parts of the assessment: the off-road section and the on-road section. The off-road part involves the OT performing a visual, cognitive and physical assessment to assess if there are any significant deficits or issues that may influence your driving capacity.
In the on-road portion, you will then drive a dual-controlled vehicle for 1 hour with the driving instructor and OT. The assessment is only focused on whether your medical condition is altering your functional capacity to operate the vehicle. Any minor errors you commit (that do not require physical intervention from the driving instructor), are generally overlooked. On the other hand, if you make a critical error (which requires the driving instructor to intervene, either by activating the emergency brake or taking control of the steering wheel), this results in an automatic ‘fail’ of the assessment. The driving instructor will not physically intervene unless there is danger of a collision or accident. The OT and driving instructor will discuss with you the outcome of the assessment immediately afterwards, and the OT will complete the report and send it to the RMS, NDIS and your doctor.
For learner drivers with no or limited previous driving experience, the assessment is more of a lesson, aimed to conclude your current level of driving so the OT can recommend a number of driving lessons you will need to progress to your provisional licence. As a learner driver, it is not possible to determine if your disability is affecting your driving at this stage, as you need more practice and driving experience. Your NDIS funding will usually cover a significant number of lessons, but you may have to pay for some lessons privately. In general, the NDIS continues to support a person’s goal to drive if they are showing improvement with their driving skills. As such, it is common for people to have OT driving reassessments to determine if the NDIS will continue to fund driving lessons. If a person becomes stagnant with their driving or stops improving after a significant number of lessons (and is not ready to take the provisional driving test), the OT may make the decision to cancel the person’s licence.
For drivers with previous driving experience, the OT driving assessment is generally used to determine if they can safely return to driving (for instance, after a stroke or seizure), or to assess the need for vehicle modifications (e.g. if a stroke has affected functioning in a limb or if an amputation has occurred). If you need a modification, the OT will recommend lessons to learn how to use the modification independently (which may be funded by the NDIS). You will then be required to undergo the RMS disability test to ensure you can use the modification safely, and the vehicle modification may be funded by the NDIS. It is important to note that the NDIS has specific requirements regarding funding modifications (e.g. vehicle age). The NDIS will not fund the purchase of a vehicle.