What makes the Occupational Therapist the most appropriate health professional to assess driving?
To answer that question, the role of an Occupational Therapist must first be defined. In general, OT is the allied health stream that focuses on building people’s self-reliance so they can better live their lives to the best of their ability. OTs work in a variety of settings and with people of all age groups and various medical conditions. Occupational therapists can engage with people in truly every aspect of their lives to enhance their independence, helping them to achieve their personal and health goals. At the core, Occupational Therapists aim to help people to complete activities that are necessary and meaningful for that individual. Generally, there are two ways that this is achieved by occupational therapy: changing and moulding the person’s physical environment or surroundings to better assist and support them; and/or heightening the person’s abilities and skills. Common examples of occupational therapy goals include improving basic self-care skills, money management, equipment prescription or rehabilitation following an injury or illness.
You may not realise it, but driving is one of the most complex tasks that we complete on a daily basis. This is because driving requires the person to harmonise the use of their visual, physical and cognitive skills, all in the setting of a constantly changing and unpredictable environment. To drive safely and to legal standards, these three components must work together in unison. Other therapy types focus on specific issues; for example, a Psychologist can assess cognition but would be unable to assess any physical deficits, or a Physiotherapist is qualified to assess and treat physical issues or injuries but cannot develop cognitive-based interventions. Similarly, while a doctor is the first step to assessing a person’s medical fitness to drive, their observations and assessments are limited as they do not complete a practical observation of the person driving. Driving is a task that is best appraised by observing the person as they drive, as it is the only way to thoroughly judge how the three areas of visual, cognitive and physical abilities are able to manoeuvre a vehicle. Therefore, it has been established that Occupational Therapist Driving Assessments are the benchmark for determining fitness to drive.
Occupational therapists are qualified to assess all the above-mentioned areas and do this while observing the person driving on-road. Thus, Driver Trained Occupational Therapists assist people to maintain or regain their licence by recommending interventions and developing their skills to use vehicle modifications. Driver Trained Occupational Therapists can also develop specialized lesson plans for people who are having difficulties driving due to their medical condition. This is often done in collaboration with rehabilitation driving instructors. Moreover, for new or learner drivers, Driver Trained Occupational Therapists can promote a driving program with rehabilitation driving instructors to teach the person to drive and manage any medically-related difficulties when driving.