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Driver Rehabilitation: What You Should Know

Posted on by John Burfield

Do you remember what it was like when you first started driving? For many, the ability to drive marked a rite of passage that signified the transition into adulthood and ushered in new found independence and freedom.

As we age, the enthusiasm we feel for climbing behind the wheel can begin to fade and like many daily activities, it can be more of a chore than something we look forward to. However, for those with limited mobility or cognition due to an illness, disability, or aging – driving is a privilege that cannot always be taken for granted. Being able to drive can affect your ability to work, play, and live life independently.

Conditions like Spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, learning disabilities, visual impairment, epilepsy, neurologic conditions, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, amputation, orthopedic injury, and even diabetes can affect our driving capabilities.

Fortunately, driver rehab and adaptive driving equipment can make a world of difference for those with conditions that make it difficult or impossible to operate a standard vehicle.

Driver Rehab Services are provided by a Certified Driving Rehab Specialist (CDRS), which is a licensed professional that is uniquely qualified to evaluate a driver's physical, perceptual, and cognitive abilities and their ability to drive safely. Often, a CDRS is a clinician such as an Occupational or Physical Therapist or a licensed driving instructor that have taken the necessary training courses to combine these two professional disciplines.

Their expertise allows them to make recommendations about whether an individual has the potential to use specialized driving methods and adaptive driving equipment to safely operate a vehicle.

Examples of adaptive driving equipment include:

  • Steering wheel spinner knobs
  • Hand controls that allow you operate the accelerator and brake with your arms
  • Wheelchair securement to allow you to drive while seated in a wheelchair
  • Modified vehicles that can easily load and unload mobility devices

How does Driver Rehab Work?

To learn more about driver rehab services, I spoke with Joan Cramer, MS, OT/L, a Certified Driving Rehab Specialist with The Next Street Driver Rehab Services located in Watertown, Connecticut. She provided details on who could benefit from driver rehab and how the assessment process works.

Joan noted that her typical client contacts her for one of several reasons.

  • They are young adults who were born with various conditions that affect their mobility and they are approaching legal driving age.
  • They are seniors who are starting to feel the effects of aging and need to determine if they can safely continue to drive.
  • They have recently suffered a serious injury that affects their ability to drive such as a spinal cord injury or amputation.

Step 1: Clinical Evaluation –The client will receive an initial clinical assessment that will last approximately 90-minutes. This assessment will help to determine if their physical and cognitive abilities are sufficient to safely drive using special driving methods and/or with the use of adaptive driving equipment. After completing this assessment, the CDRS will make recommendations about whether the client should:

  1. Proceed to taking an on-road assessment
  2. Take steps such as visiting a physical therapist to improve their physical performance prior to taking an on-road assessment
  3. Look for alternatives to driving due to their lack of the necessary physical or cognitive abilities needed to safely drive a car

The third recommendation is one that Joan Cramer does not like to deliver, but one that is sometimes necessary.

“For some individuals, the assessment reveals that the skills needed to drive are not present. This is a life changing finding from many and not an easy message to deliver. Receiving expressions of appreciation by the client or the concerned family members provide me the strength to continue this work as they voice appreciation for the detailed testing and objective explanation as to why driving is no longer an option.”

Step 2: Driving Evaluation – Those given approval will then undergo a driving assessment using a vehicle modified with adaptive driving equipment. This assessment will help to determine if the individual can safely operate a vehicle and what adaptive equipment they will need.

Step 3: Results – The results and recommendations from both portions of the assessment will be provided to the referring physician. For those that require adaptive driving equipment, a prescription will be needed to receive a restricted driver’s license.

Step 4: Specialized Plan – If your assessment goes well, a plan for what type of adaptive driving equipment and necessary vehicle modifications will be developed based on the results of the assessment.

When a client has a successful evaluation and plan for adaptive driving is put into place, Certified Driving Rehab Specialists like Joan Cramer feel a sense of fulfillment that drives their passion for providing driver rehab services.

“I have provided services to many over the past 30 years, but the most rewarding gift is the hug from a young adult who thanks me for the experience to learn that they will be able to drive using adaptive devices.”

Next Street Rehab Driving Services offers in-home assessments and serves clients throughout Connecticut. To Learn more, visit The Next Street Driver Rehab Services.

If you live outside of Connecticut and feel to that you could benefit from Driver Rehab Services, you can visit the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Services to find a provider near you.

To learn more about adaptive driving equipment, you can visit the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.


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