Dealing With the Older Driver: Driving Skills Assessments

MARCH 24, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 38

Elder Law Issues has devoted several recent weeks’ articles to some of the problems involving aging drivers. If you are concerned about your own driving skills or those of an older family member, you may wish to obtain a formal skills assessment.

The Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) provides information about driving assessments and referrals to certified specialists. ADED recommends that a driving assessment include testing on visual perception, functional ability, reaction time and a road test.

Visual processing speed, an important component of safe driving, decreases as we age. The Useful Field of View (UFOV) test is a measure of visual processing speed that is increasingly touted as a reliable predictor of accident probability. Researchers at University of Alabama-Birmingham UAB have worked on UFOV for more than a decade.

UFOV is given in three parts. First, a silhouette of a car or truck flashes for less than a second on a computer screen and test takers must touch the word on the screen that corresponds to the vehicle type. Second, test takers must remember where a circular shape flashed on the screen near the vehicle. Last, they must be able to ignore a third object which appears only as a distraction.

Encouraging news: UFOV can be a training tool as well as a diagnostic instrument. According to UFOV researcher Dr. Karlene Ball, in those elderly drivers with poor visual processing skills, training with a modified version of the computer test for four to seven hours may raise visual processing speed to within normal levels.

Recovering stroke victims may wish to explore with a driving rehabilitation specialist or occupational therapist the possibility of incorporating adaptive aids. Cars can be adapted for post-stroke patients so that they accommodate the driver’s “good” side, or allow steering by a modified hand or foot control. Simple adaptations such as adding larger rear and side-view mirrors to cars may assist many drivers with decreased neck mobility.

In addition to ADED, local occupational therapists, local area agencies on aging, your state department of motor vehicles, or your physician may provide driving assessment referrals. Remember that mature driver courses are offered by a variety of organizations, the best-known of which is AARP’s Driver Safety Program. (formerly 55 Alive). Course schedules nationwide may be found on AARP’s website or by calling its toll-free line at (888)AARP-NOW. Participating in safety courses entitles older drivers to insurance discounts mandated by law in most states.

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