Being able to operate a vehicle is an important skill for Australians to have, and a drive medical assessment plays a vital role in ensuring that people with a disability or injury can continue to do so as much as possible.
This article covers the basics of what practitioners and therapists need to know about this test.
The aim of the test
The major aim of a drive medical is to help people with a disability, injury or medical condition stay on the road independently, safely and legally. It also identifies any safety or comfort issues that need to be addressed. This can help people stay mobile, independent and involved in their community. Therapists can also offer advice to clients and their families and provide recommendations regarding monitoring and managing their ability to operate a vehicle.
There are official guidelines available to support occupational therapists with the resources and information they need to do a drive medical. This covers things like licencing; a vital part of the process.
How health conditions can affect ability to operate a vehicle
Being able to operate a vehicle involves a great number of complex skills and factors, such as:
- Person’s training, experience and attitude
- Person’s mental and physical health (including whether they take any medications)
- Laws, such as blood alcohol concentration allowances and speed limits
- Road factors, such as signs and traffic
- Vehicle factors, such as the type, age and condition of the vehicle
- Environmental factors, such as extreme weather conditions or darkness
- Personal factors, such as whether the person is late for an appointment or is anxious about their destination.
Health conditions, injuries and disabilities have the potential to impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Some examples of such conditions that may be identified by a drive medical assessment are:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurological conditions like dementia or epilepsy
- Sleep disorders
- Substance misuse
- Musculoskeletal conditions
- Vision problems
Conditions such as these can affect motor, sensory and/or cognitive function, all which are essential for operating a vehicle safely. Certain conditions may be chronic or episodic. Treatments may also affect ability to operate a vehicle, either hindering it or helping it depending on the type of treatment. Certain conditions can be fully recovered from whereas others might not. When deciding on a person’s abilities, often risk analyses must be conducted.
Liaising with road authorities
Each state’s road authority has its own rules around drive medical policy and decisions for licencing. This is done with the intention to maintain safety on the roads whilst giving road users as much freedom as is possible. This is done by using mechanisms like frequent medical reviews and conditional licences to ensure health conditions are kept in check.
Apart from performing a drive medical, an occupational therapist may assist their clients to notify their condition to their licencing authority regarding any injuries, disabilities or health conditions. They may also help their client’s GP be aware of these obligations.
The therapist may be ethically obliged to inform their state’s licencing authority if their client is continuing to operate a vehicle against their advice. While this is not a legal mandate, it is an act in the interest of public safety, and therapists should be indemnified.
A drive medical plays a key role in helping people operate a vehicle safely, and ensures that people with a disability, medical condition or injury can retain their mobility as much as is possible. Hopefully this article has helped you understand what you need to know from a practitioner’s perspective.