Being able to operate a vehicle allows the modern Australian greater freedom of mobility and independence. However, it is also a potentially dangerous and complex task requiring a combination of visual, auditory, cognitive, social and motor abilities. As such, it is important that the motorist is equipped with the abilities necessary to ensure their safety whilst travelling. People with certain medical conditions or injuries, as well as the elderly, may experience a reduction in the abilities needed to operate a vehicle. This guide will explain how a disability driving assessment can benefit you and demystify the process of obtaining one.
What a disability driving assessment is
It is an evaluation which aims to determine a person’s physical and mental ability to operate a vehicle safely and comfortably. It is carried out by a qualified occupational therapist, who may also provide help with recommending and providing motorist assistance aids and rehabilitation plans.
It is a legal requirement that you tell your licence authority about any physical or mental conditions which may impair your ability to operate a vehicle. You must also provide evidence from a medical practitioner, and possibly an occupational therapist, declaring that you are fit to do so. There may be penalties for failing to do this.
When you may require an evaluation
There are a range of possible reasons why you might require an evaluation. If you are experiencing a physical or mental condition or injury which affects visual, auditory, cognitive (e.g. reaction time, processing ability), psychosocial (e.g. patience, consideration) and motor (e.g. use of hands, feet and neck) skills, you may require a disability driving assessment. If your doctor has doubts as to your practical ability to operate a vehicle, they may provide you with a referral. Alternatively, if you or someone you know are concerned, you can self-refer to a disability driving assessment centre.
Before receiving an evaluation, you generally must obtain a medical report from a doctor outlining any conditions or medications which may affect your ability to operate a vehicle.
What a disability driving assessment involves
The evaluation is a comprehensive process which consists of both on-road and off-road elements, and takes around 2 to 3 hours to complete. The on-road and off-road elements can be done on different days.
This part of the evaluation examines your medical history and needs, and tests your eyesight, reaction speed, knowledge of road laws, and physical and cognitive abilities. It also determines a plan for the on-road evaluation, along with any vehicle modification requirements. The process takes around 1 to 1.5 hours to finish. It is important to bring along your driver’s licence, a list of medications being taken, and glasses if you wear them.
This is the practical part of the evaluation, which directly examines your abilities on the road. You will be required to operate your instructor’s dual-controlled car, which may be fitted with any necessary modifications. You will be tested on your ability to operate the vehicle safely and independently. This may include aspects such as planning, observational, judgment, knowledge of road laws and vehicle handling abilities.
The process takes around 50 minutes to complete. Afterwards, the occupational therapist will let you know how you went, as well as if there are any habits or deficits which may affect your ability to operate the vehicle safely and comfortably. You may be offered a rehabilitation program and/or a report which you can provide to your licencing authority.
What a rehabilitation program may involve
Following the disability driving assessment, some people may require additional help getting back on the road. A rehabilitation program can provide extra assistance for those who need it. This may include providing:
- Help with learning new motorist techniques needed to compensate for challenges
- Help with learning to use specialised car modifications
- Desensitisation program for those experiencing anxiety or phobias
- Help preparing for road tests
- Fitness programs for those with injuries
Normally, the cost of a disability driving assessment and associated modifications must be covered by the motorist. However, there are some third parties which may cover the cost. Some include:
The NDIS may provide funding for those who require a vehicle modification.
If you require an evaluation as a result of injury at work or in a road accident, an insurer might cover the cost through CTP or WorkCover.
Some charities and volunteer organisations may be willing to offer support by covering the cost of the evaluation or modifications.
If you or someone you know requires help with getting back on the road, a disability driving assessment may be useful. Check with your doctor to determine whether one is needed. You may also be able to access assistance with funding if you require it.