How do I know that I can drive again after a stroke?
Your doctor will give you medical clearance to return to driving. This occurs when your doctor has assessed that you have no further side effects or impairments from the stroke. In Australia, different states have different regulations about driving after a stroke, and the individual is obligated to be aware of their responsibilities regarding this. Generally, any significant change to your health or medical status, or a long-term medical diagnosis that influences your driving capacity, must be reported to your licencing authority. In NSW, this is the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS). There are serious consequences for failing to report your medical condition to the RMS or going back to driving without obtaining medical clearance. In some cases, your doctor may be unsure if you are medically fit to drive again, and they may decide that you need to undergo an Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment.
What is an Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment?
As driving is complex exercise, it is often difficult for a doctor to thoroughly assess how one’s driving performance has been impacted after a stroke. Central to this is because doctors do not get the opportunity to personally observe people driving. Therefore, your doctor may refer you to an Occupational Therapist (OT) to assess how the stroke has affected your driving skills. Occupational therapists are allied health professionals that help people become more independent in all avenues of life. An OT who performs driving assessments has completed a specialised course to obtain this qualification, and thereby can make clinical decisions regarding a person’s fitness to drive in relation to their medical condition.
What does an Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment involve?
When your doctor refers you to an OT for a driving assessment, the OT and rehabilitation driving instructor come to your residence. The two parts of the test are outlined below:
1. The off-road assessment: The OT performs visual, physical and cognitive assessments to test for any major deficits in these areas. Any significant deficits may indicate the need for vehicle modifications.
2. The on-road assessments: You will drive a dual-controlled car with the rehabilitation driving instructor and OT. You will drive around your local area, encountering various traffic conditions. The OT observes how the effects of the stroke might be affecting your driving ability. The OT is not concerned about minor mistakes you make due to being unfamiliar with the vehicle or poor driving habits, granted you can improve your performance after receiving feedback from the OT and/or driving instructor. However, ongoing errors or critical errors may point to your medical problem hindering your driving capacity. A critical error occurs when the driving instructor is required to physically intervene (by applying the emergency brakes or utilising the steering wheel) to avoid a collision with another object.
You are notified of the outcome of the assessment immediately after the test, and the OT will explain to you what is to happen next. The OT will send the report to your referring doctor and RMS.