Rehabilitation program focuses on driver independence, safety

By Kimberly Puffer Wranovics  |  8/23/2018

In August, Northern Dutchess Hospital launched a new program called Driver Rehabilitation to better meet the needs of senior drivers and drivers with medical challenges.

The program has three parts: There is a physical evaluation of the driver, an observation of the person's driving and, if needed, therapy given to improve his or her driving abilities.

Here's how it works:

The first step of the program is a clinical assessment made by an occupational therapist with specialized training. As one of these specialists, I evaluate the mental and physical condition of the driver. This is done in my office on the hospital campus. I review strength and coordination, brake reaction time, vision, perceptual processing skills, problem-solving abilities and safety awareness.  Next, we take the program's vehicle–a 2018 Toyota Camry–for a spin around local roads. This is called an on-road assessment.  As the passenger, I am able to assess the driver's ability to operate the Camry, interact safely with others and demonstrate knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. For example, does the driver understand the traffic signals? Does the driver properly signal prior to turning? Etc.

At the end of the assessments, my evaluation will include several key areas. It will cover my recommended level of driving independence and any driving restrictions, if needed. My recommendations may also be that the driver needs occupational therapy, for better grip of the steering wheel, as one example, or if adaptive vehicle equipment is required.

The driver could potentially need special hand controls, a steering wheel spinner, a left-foot accelerator, wider mirrors, pedal extenders or assistance with the driver's seat position. These are all areas our program can assist with.

My evaluation is reported to the medical provider who referred the driver for the evaluation. With the driver's permission, the evaluation may also be shared with family members.  The results are not reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles by the therapist.

Please note: We only work with licensed drivers and we are not a driving school.

While you  need a medical provider's referral before we can schedule your or your loved one's appointment, we're available to answer any questions you may have. Reach the hospital's Driver Rehabilitation department at 845-871-4380 (TTY: 800-421-1220).  

Kimberly Puffer Wranovics is a licensed occupational therapist, specializing in driver rehabilitation at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck. The program follows guidelines established by the American Medical Association, Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists and NYS DMV.