How Do You Assess Driving Ability?

Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists could help you answer that critical question.

When Joan* first met Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) Julie Dominik, she hadn’t driven in several months. In fact, Joan and her daughter Carole* weren’t sure if Joan would ever drive again.

Earlier that year, the healthy, active 82-year-old had been planning to move from New York to Ohio to be closer to family.

“After my father died in January 2018, she decided she didn’t need a big house with a big yard in the snow belt of New York State,” said Carole. “We made the decision that she would move before she needed to. We almost made that.”

Joan suddenly became ill and collapsed just days before her scheduled move. Her neighbors found her on the kitchen floor and she was rushed to the hospital. After spending time in intensive care, doctors determined Joan had contracted a severe disease from a rare tick bite.

While Joan miraculously survived, the bite left her with mild cognitive impairment.

“To me it means, it just takes me a little longer to think things through and sometimes I have to ask questions about things I should know, and sometimes I forget things,” said Joan.

Joan ended up moving to Ohio a couple of weeks later with several remaining complications. Carole and her husband cared for Joan and drove her to numerous doctors’ appointments.

“It was a period of time when it was impossible for me to even think about driving,” said Joan. “And so the car was in the garage.”

Carole wasn’t sure how to assess her mother’s driving, so she asked one of Joan’s physicians at Summa Health Senior Health Center about her mother’s driving. The physician referred them to Julie Dominik at Mercy Medical Center for a driving assessment.

CDRSs, like Dominik, are certified through The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists to complete thorough driver evaluations. Based on evaluation results, the CDRS will determine if any adaptive driving equipment is needed, whether the individual can drive independently, or at all, and whether they require driver rehabilitation training.

Driving assessments typically start with a lengthy interview process to determine any concern areas, such as cognitive impairment.

“We have a battery of screenings we go through that looks at all of the different skills that a person needs for driving,” said Dominik. “We look at eyes, brain and body, as those are the three main components that we want to make sure people can use and function well in order for that safe operation of the vehicle.”

To determine if someone is safe to hit the road, CDRSs will often perform tests in the office with a simulator. During Joan’s assessment, she did end up going on an actual drive with Dominik.

“I remember her saying, you’re too close to that car, you should be a whole car’s length back,” said Joan. “Later, as we talked, she said I would be able to drive, but it would be under certain restrictions.”

“Initially, they wanted me to do some practice driving with her,” said Carole. “So, she doesn’t drive anywhere by herself unless she and I have been there, mostly because I want to make sure she doesn’t get lost or confused.”

Joan also doesn’t drive at night or on the highway and is extremely cautious about ice and snow.

“Right now, I can drive to a nearby shopping center for groceries and I can drive out to Walmart and some other stores and I can go to church,” said Joan. “Very, very local things.”

Even though Joan has a wonderful support network through Carole and her husband, she says it feels good to be able to drive by herself again. Carole agrees it’s given her mother more freedom and flexibility.

“I felt much, much better after talking with Julie and seeing the assessment,” said Carole. “Her needs were being met, but her ability to do more social things weren’t, because she wasn’t able to drive.”

Nationally, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The Foundation also found that driving cessation in older adults contributes to a variety of health problems and depression.

“Our overall goal is to try to maintain their level of access to their community as independent and safe as possible,” said Dominik. “The majority of them hope that that means that they’re continuing to operate a motor vehicle, but that’s not always the way things play out.”

CDRSs do not have the authority to take away someone’s license. They serve as messengers between the patient and the patient’s physician. It’s up to the physician to then open a case with the Ohio BMV to start the process of taking someone’s license.

If that happens, the CDRS will discuss mobility options with the patient. Options depend on individual circumstances, including their family support, location and access to public transportation.

“If they don’t have a lot of support, then we’re going to help them to at least start the investigation into the alternatives available in their community,” said Dominik.

Joan commends Dominik on her patience, encouragement and attention to detail.

“I was ready to accept her opinion,” said Joan. “If I had had to (give up the keys), I would have. I really think at that point, I wasn’t fully confident in myself.”

AAA also aims to boost driver confidence and keep seniors driving safer, longer through a variety of senior programming, including its driver improvement program for mature operators. The eight-hour, state-approved course is offered at AAA Ohio Auto Club’s headquarters in Worthington and, upon request, at locations throughout much of Ohio.

“Most of the folks who are aging well will do awesome at coming to the mature operator course and learning about being defensive drivers, learning about some of the changes that might affect them as they age that might inhibit their safety behind the wheel,” said Dominik. “The people who tend to need our services are folks who there are concerns about.”

Dominik encourages families to speak with their physician if they have concerns about their own driving or of a family member’s driving. Many times the clinical portion of a visit with one of Ohio’s CDRSs is covered by health insurance.

Joan and Carole are both thankful for the time they spent with Dominik.

“I would definitely recommend having an assessment done,” said Carole. “I just couldn’t make the assessment as to whether she should be driving by myself, and so I’m very grateful for people that have the expertise to do that.”

Kimberly Schwind is Senior Public Affairs Manager for AAA Ohio.

*Editor’s note: Joan and Carole asked AAA Magazine not to use their last names.


Help with Driving

If you or someone you know is experiencing physical changes or feelings of driving discomfort, AAA offers the following recommendations:

Talk about it: Visit a doctor to determine the cause of your discomfort and evaluate potential solutions, such as a referral to a certified driver rehabilitation specialist or occupational therapist.

Educate yourself: You can evaluate your driving performance using tools like AAA’s Driver65Plus, located at SeniorDriving.AAA.com under the “Evaluate your Driving Ability” tab. You also might consider taking
a driver improvement course to help refresh your knowledge.

Make changes: Once you know the cause of your discomfort, make needed vehicle adjustments. Free programs like CarFit can help older drivers learn about changes they can make to their vehicles to better fit their needs. Find a CarFit event by visiting Car-Fit.org or call (614) 431-7891 to schedule a one-on-one CarFit with a trained technician today.