Is It Time To Reassess Your Driving Skills?


By Judy McKeown, RN (MS Resource Nurse)

The demands of driving a car today are greater than ever, particularly in Christchurch, making it even more important for vehicles to be operated safely.

But what happens when you or your GP believe it is time to reassess your driving skills?

Driving assessments can be a great source of anxiety for people living with MS or Parkinson’s because they fear they could lose their means of independence. An assessment might simply determine the need for a car adjustment, such as changing from a manual to an automatic transmission or having hand controls fitted, but even if you are no longer able to operate a car, there are viable transport options that will help you get about and carry on with your life.

Driving assessments are conducted by Occupational Therapists (OT) at the Burwood Driving and Vehicle Assessment Service, and comprise an off-road assessment and an on-road
driving assessment; each part could take up to an hour.

When you go for your assessment you will have to present your driver licence and any relevant letters from your doctor or the licensing authority. If you normally wear glasses to drive or read then you will need them for the assessment.

During the off-road assessment the OT is likely to ask you where you normally drive, and if you have any physical problems that may affect your driving, such as limited movement, strength and co-ordination as well as test your knowledge of road intersection rules. The OT and a trained driving instructor will then accompany you on the on-road assessment, which can be done in your own car.

What is an Off-Road Assessment

After the assessment, the OT will discuss your performance with you and write a report for your doctor outlining their observations and providing a professional recommendation. If you are no longer able to drive then consider attending Age Concern Canterbury’s Life Without a Car course. This is a two-hour course that covers alternatives to driving and the services and entitlements that are available to help people remain active in the community.

Age Concern Canterbury also offer an all-theory course for mature drivers to address the increased likelihood of crash involvement among people 60 years or older. Confident Driving for Mature Drivers is a comprehensive five-hour refresher course and includes morning tea and lunch, and workbooks for future reference. A certificate of attendance is issued on completion and there are no tests or exams on the course.

Being mindful of the changes in vision, reaction time and flexibility that occur as you get older and how they can affect driving ability will help you make decisions that will improve your safety on the road.

Confident Driving for Mature Drivers is held from 9.30am to 2.30pm and includes life-saving road  safety tips, an overview of recent changes to road rules, and information about  how the aging process can affect driving skills. Life Without a Car and Confident Driving for Mature Drivers are both offered regularly throughout the year and attendance is free.

Mobility scooters and power chairs are two popular options for people who are no longer able  to drive a car. These are battery-powered wheeled mobility devices that can be operated without a driver licence. The main legal requirements are that they must be operated in a careful and considerate manner and used on the footpath.

The Lottery Individuals with Disabilities Committee can help with the purchase of vehicles, mobility scooters and other disability equipment. The Committee distributes funds to people with disabilities to help them achieve independence and participate in the community; see Mary Kingston’s On the Road Again article for her experience of applying to the fund and the Applying For A Lottery Grant article for information about accessing a grant from the Committee.

People in Christchurch who meet the eligibility criteria can obtain discount vouchers for taxi travel from the Total Mobility Scheme. The Scheme aims to assist people with physical impairments or illness to participate in everyday activities such as shopping and attending appointments. Total Mobility vouchers provide a 50% discount on the standard fare subject to certain conditions.

For information about:

  • Driving assessments, contact your GP
  • Driving refresher courses, contact Age Concern on 03 366-0903 or 03 331-7808
  • Mobility scooters or power chairs, contact Rachel or Maree on 03 366-2857 ext. 1 or More Mobility on 0800 666-222
  • Total Mobility vouchers, contact Annette on 03 366-2857 ext. 6

For information about the laws that apply to wheeled mobility devices, go to the New Zealand Transport Agency’s website.