2.3.1 Practical driver assessments
The impact of a medical condition or multiple conditions on driving is not always clear, thus a practical driver assessment may be useful. Such assessments are to be distinguished from the tests of competency to drive that are routinely conducted by driver licensing authorities for licensing purposes. These assessments are suitable only for persistent impairments.
When is a practical driver assessment indicated?
A practical driver assessment is designed to assess the impact of injury, illness or the ageing process on driving skills including judgement, decision-making skills, observation and vehicle handling. The assessment may also be helpful in determining the need for vehicle modification to assist drivers with musculoskeletal and other disabilities.
A health professional may request a practical driver assessment to provide information to supplement the clinical assessment in some borderline cases and to assist in making recommendations regarding a person’s fitness to drive. However, practical assessments have limitations in that a patient’s condition may fluctuate (good days and bad days) and it is not possible to create emergency situations on the road to assess quickness of response. Thus, practical assessments are intended to inform but not override the clinical opinion of the examining health professional. In addition, there are clinical situations that are clearly unsuitable for on-road assessments, such as significant visual impairment or significant cognitive impairment.
What types of assessments are available?
There are a wide range of practical assessments available, including off-road, on-road and driving simulator assessments, each with strengths and limitations. Assessments may be conducted by occupational therapists trained in driver assessment or by others approved by the particular driver licensing authority, such as training providers for commercial vehicle drivers. Processes for initiating and conducting driver assessments vary between the states and territories and the choice of assessment depends on resource availability, logistics, cost and individual requirements. The assessments may be initiated by the examining health professional, other referrers (e.g. police, self, family) or by the driver licensing authority.
It is not the intent of this publication to specify the assessment to be used in a particular situation. Health professionals should contact the local driver licensing authority (Appendix 9: Driver licensing authority contacts) for details of options or refer to Appendix 10: Specialist driver assessors.
What does a practical assessment involve?
Depending on the individual situation, the assessment may involve evaluating:
- the need for specialised equipment or vehicle modifications
- the driver’s ability to control the motor vehicle
- the driver’s functional status including cognitive function, physical strength and skills, reaction time, insight level and ability to self-monitor their driving
- the driver‘s lifestyle and the nature, frequency and requirement for driving
- the driver’s understanding and application of road laws.
Recommendations following assessment may relate to licence status, the need for vehicle modifications, rehabilitation or retraining (refer to section 2.3.2 Driver rehabilitation) licence conditions or restrictions (refer to section 4.4 Conditional licences) and reassessment.
More information about occupational therapy driver assessments can be found in the publication Victorian Guidelines for Occupational Therapy (OT) Driver Assessors, 2008.4 Refer also Appendix 10: Specialist driver assessors.