Driving is often one of the most important tasks people undertake on a daily basis. It often signifies an important milestone in a person’s life, a driving often equates to enhanced independence. Driving allows people to integrate and socialize with their community, and allows people to travel to their workplace or educational institute.
However, sadly many people during their life will experience an injury or develop a medical condition that may limit their ability to drive. This often cause distress to the person as it can restrict their independence. This is where Driver Trained Occupational Therapists can be utilized.
Driver trained occupational therapist (OTs) are registered like other OTs with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). They are often members of OT Australia (OTAUS). They must have completed a degree in Occupational Therapy, and after practicing as a therapist for several years have completed an additional University post graduate course to become registered as a Driver Trained Occupational Therapist.
What makes the Occupational Therapist the most appropriate profession to assess driving?
To answer that question, the role of Occupational Therapist must first be defined. This is often difficult to articulate as Occupational Therapists work in a variety of settings and with people with various medical conditions. However, at the core, Occupational Therapists aim to help people to complete activities that are necessary and also meaningful for that person. Common examples include basic self care tasks, money management and returning to work. Driving is one of the most complex daily tasks we complete. This is because it requires a person to utilize their vision, cognition and their entire body. Other therapists are limited to treating 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 deficits but cannot develop cognitive based interventions. Similarly, the use of doctors is also limited regarding fitness to drive as they are unable to complete a practical on road driving assessment. Therefore, it is commonly accepted that Occupational Therapist Driving Assessments are the gold standard 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. Driver Trained Occupational Therapists are able to assist people to maintain or regain their licence by recommending and developing skills to use vehicle modifications. Driver Trained Occupational Therapists can also develop specialized lesson plans for people who are making errors due to their medical condition. This is often done in collaboration with rehabilitation driving instructors.
When a person has a medical condition that may impact on their ability to drive, their treating doctor or health professional may refer them for an Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment. This is common practice throughout Australia and many other countries. The primary aim of all driving assessments completed by occupational therapists is to determine if the person is currently safe to drive. This is the therapist’s first concern. As mentioned earlier, driving is complex, but it is also the most unsafe task most people engage in due to the constantly changing environment. Motor vehicle accidents remain one of the most common forms of death and injury in Australia. The second aim for the occupational therapist is then to determine if the person is not able to drive due to their medical condition, what interventions can be implemented to get them to return to driving as soon as possible.