Driving after a spinal cord injury
For many of us, driving is an important part of our daily routine. Being able to drive also means independence. Many people with spinal cord injuries return to driving.
If you held a Victorian driver's license at the time you sustained your spinal cord injury, (including learner permit, probationary licence, full driver licence, heavy vehicle, etc.), it is likely that you will need to undertake a medical review before you will be able to drive again.
This medical review means providing a medical report to Vic Roads. This outlines the nature and extent of your injury or impairment. This can be filled out by your treating doctor when you are 'medically fit' to drive.
This review helps to determine if you will be able to drive safely. It is an offence not to disclose a medical condition to Vic Roads. Your medical report will probably indicate that you need an occupational therapist driving assessment.
Occupational therapist driving assessment
A specially trained occupational therapists (OT), along with a Vic Roads driving instructor, will do your driving assessment.
A list of occupational therapists who conduct driving assessments can be found on the OT Australia (Victoria) website. Or you can phone for a list: 03 9481 6866
In most cases, you will have to pay for your driving assessment. However, speak with your occupational therapist or other health professional to see whether your compensatory body or other scheme may be able to pay.
Your driving assessment is conducted in two parts. An off-road, and on-road assessment. These may be completed on the same day, or spread out over a couple of appointments.
Off Road Assessment
Your off road assessment will involve the OT driver assessor asking you about your driving and medical history. You will also be assessed for your physical, visual, sensory and thinking abilities, and your basic knowledge of the road law. A few simple tests are also completed to check your movements, strength and coordination. Other factors that may affect your driving such as endurance, pain and fatigue are also looked at.
On Road Assessment
Your on road assessment usually takes about an hour. You will be driving, accompanied by the OT driver assessor and a driving instructor. The instructor will sit beside you to give you directions about where to drive, and the OT driving assessor will sit in the back and observe your driving skills.
This part of the assessment will be carried out in a vehicle that suits your needs (e.g. manual, automatic, or a vehicle with hand controls). The assessment can't be done in your own vehicle. For safety reasons you will be driving a dual control vehicle, which is fitted with a passenger brake.
Following the completion of your assessments, the OT driver assessor will give you feedback about your performance. They may make one of the following recommendations:
- You can return to driving. This may be after vehicle modifications are completed, or you have completed a number of recommended lessons.
- Retraining in a dual control car with a driving instructor, with reassessment at a later date.
- Restricting conditions on your drivers licence, such as 'local area only'.
- Licence suspension or cancellation.
There are a number of modifications which can be done to your vehicle to assist you to drive. This can include hand controls, changing the drivers seat, adjusting the hinge on your car door to allow it to open wider, installing additional electric controls or installing a roof mounted hoist for your wheelchair.
Your OT driving assessor can recommend any modifications your vehicle may require. They can also help you find a supplier who can make the changes to your vehicle.
Funding and suppliers
You can also find suppliers to modify your vehicle on the Department of Human Services website: Department of Human Services
There is a subsidy that can help pay for your modifications: Vehicle Modification Subsidy Scheme.
If you use your vehicle for work, you may be entitled to a subsidy through the Employment Assistance Fund.
If you are covered by TAC or WorkSafe your vehicle modifications may be funded under these schemes.
What if I have never driven before?
If you have never held a drivers licence you may still be able to learn to drive.
Firstly, you will need to go through the standard VicRoads testing system to obtain your Learner Permit. You will also need to complete a medical report and provide it to VicRoads.
You will then need to contact an OT driving assessor who can assist you to find a dual control car to practice in. They will also complete a driving assessment to find out what type of vehicle modifications you will need.
RACV have produced a booklet called Media:Keeping+Mobile.pdf with information about modifying a vehicle for drivers and passengers with a disability.