Occupational Therapy’s Role in Driver Rehabilitation1

Occupational Therapy’s Role in Driver Rehabilitation

As occupational therapists, we consider driving to be an important instrumental activity of daily living (IADL) that may sometimes be addressed as part of treatment, but did you know that occupational therapy’s role in driver rehabilitation can be considered its own practice area entirely?

Driver rehabilitation is a specialized area of occupational therapy that helps someone regain independence in the area of driving after experiencing an acute or traumatic injury, illness, or disability.

People who benefit from driver rehab may have impairments in the strength or motion of their legs and/or arms. They may also have some minor cognitive issues or vision concerns that impact their driving capabilities.

Individuals who are often candidates for driver rehab may have diagnoses such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lower extremity amputations, or any other conditions that may impact driving.

So how does occupational therapy fit into driving rehab and community mobility?

Occupational therapists can address driving rehab and community mobility in the following ways:

  • Educating new parents about infant car seats or booster seats for children
  • How to address special medical needs for children riding in the car
  • Community mobility for parents and caregivers with disabilities
  • Bicycling safety and use
  • Skill training for problem-solving, endurance, range of motion, strength, coordination, vision, and more
  • Walking in the community
  • Using public transit
  • Coping with a loss of driving
  • Personal safety in the community
  • Navigating community appointments (doctors, hospitals, stores, banks, etc.)
  • Reading and interpreting signage, maps, and GPS communications
  • School bus safety
  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Adapting cars and other vehicles for drivers and passengers with disabilities
  • Engaging socially in the absence of driving or use of public transportation

Driving is something many people take for granted, since it often becomes second nature after years of doing it multiple times a day. For this reason, driver rehab is a very impactful practice area of occupational therapy that can help many people maintain their independence in a very personal way.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in for yourself or it is an area you simply want to learn more about, read on.

Education

Since occupational therapists graduate as generalists, they have some idea of how occupational therapy can help people in the realm of driving. You may recall learning about driving in OT school as it pertains to safety strategies, body mechanics, and maybe even simple adaptations that can be used to improve someone’s function in this area.

However, there is much more than meets the eye for driver rehab. Experienced therapists in this area have undergone more specialized training to gain the skills and know-how necessary to bring people back to their prior level of functioning as drivers.

Training

Driver rehabilitation is recognized by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as a specialty area of practice that therapists can get certified in. Therapists who have 600 hours of working experience as a therapist addressing driving and other forms of community mobility will be eligible for AOTA’s Specialty Certification in Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM) after completing an exam.

Therapists with this credential are then able to use SCDCM after their name, which indicates their expertise in driver rehabilitation and allows them to stand out from other providers.

Driver Rehabilitation Specialist

The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) also offers two credentialing programs for driver rehab specialists. These are similar in some ways to the one offered by AOTA, but the difference is that this program is open to a range of other professionals, including allied health providers, driving instructors, and more.

The first course is the Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS), which is a good fit for people who are currently providing driver rehabilitation in the form of “planning, developing, coordinating, and implementing driving services for individuals with disabilities.”

There is no additional education associated with this credential, so it is easier and quicker to obtain than the other course offered by ADED.

Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist

The Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) is a more comprehensive program that consists of a formal examination to test someone’s knowledge in the area of driver rehabilitation.

This is also available to allied health providers and lay professionals alike, but someone must have a documented 1,660 hours of driver rehabilitation experience in order to be eligible for the exam.

Since this credential is more extensive than the DRS, it does come along with a continuing education requirement of 30 hours of driving-related training per three year cycle.

American Association of Retired Persons

If you want to learn more about driver rehab but don’t quite qualify for the above certifications, or you simply don’t want the commitment, you can dabble in smaller courses such as the one offered by AARP.

This is called “We Need To Talk” and is specifically suited for caregivers and others who may need to discuss a license surrender with their loved one. These conversations can be difficult, but it’s not uncommon for therapists in skilled nursing facilities, home health, or hospital settings to participate in or initiate this type of discussion with a patient and their family. This option is self-paced, online, and free to all.

CarFit

An organization called CarFit is another helpful resource for therapists interested in the area of driver rehabilitation. CarFit was founded by the American Auto Association (AAA) in collaboration with AOTA and AARP to assist older adults with driving-related needs. The aim of CarFit is preventive in nature and it is intended to assist older adults in learning more about ways to better adapt their car to their needs to keep them safely driving as long as possible. CarFit offers a free 45 minute online workshop for people who are interested in learning more about staying safer on the road.

Another good way to either get involved with CarFit or begin your driver rehabilitation certification journey is to begin volunteering with this organization. This will not only allow you to learn more about the process, but give you hands-on experience in seeing and helping to modify cars to accommodate certain health needs.

How to Find a Driving Rehab Specialist?

If you’re not an occupational therapist but you are here visiting this article looking to find your own driving rehabilitation specialist, we wrote a companion article titled How to Find a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist in Your Area that will give you a list of ways to find your own driving rehab specialist. The article will also help further explain what to expect with driving rehab.

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As you can see, there are a range of ways that you can begin to address driver rehabilitation in your current role as an occupational therapist or gain more experience to foray exclusively into this practice area. If you are an occupational therapist interested in this area, another good way to learn more about it is to shadow an occupational therapist currently working in driver rehabilitation.

It is also possible to begin doing in-services or one-to-one training with patients if you are working in a setting such as a skilled nursing facility, acute rehabilitation center, inpatient hospital, or even an outpatient clinic. You can even complete screenings for residents of assisted living facilities to prevent any issues from occurring and offer helpful strategies to help them maintain their driving skills.

These are all areas where someone’s independence in driving may be impacted due to a recent health problem, so it could be a good opportunity to expand your skill set and gain experience in preparation for future credentialing.

What aspect of occupational therapy’s role in driver rehabilitation and/or community mobility would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally published on November 30, 2021 and last updated on October 28, 2023.

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6 comments

  • Michael Cann February 11, 2023   Reply →

    I have MS and the Utah DMV took away my license because of this

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 18, 2023   Reply →

      Hi Michael, I’m so sorry to hear this as I’m sure it is a very stressful time for you. I recommend you ask your primary care doctor for a driving rehab specialist referral to get evaluated. You can usually find local driving rehab specialists by doing searches like “driving rehab specialist near me” and some should come up if you’re in a larger town. You can also use this AOTA list of providers if that doesn’t help. I hope this helps.

  • Kay Mary Foetisch September 14, 2023   Reply →

    i’M a senior driver and would like to make sure my driving is safe. What steps should I take to continue being able

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L October 26, 2023   Reply →

      Hi Kay, your first step is to find a driving rehab specialist near you to do an assessment and they can provide treatment for you if needed. Our national OT association has a list you can look through here.

  • Susan Touchinsky April 16, 2024   Reply →

    Adaptive Mobility Services is happy to continue to help OTP interested in becoming driver rehab specialists! We offer a variety of education from driving risk assessment training for the generalist in the clinic to specialist training for the OTP in the vehicle. Come check out a range of offerings at adaptivemobility.thinkific.com

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L April 16, 2024   Reply →

      Thanks for sharing your resource!

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