Clare McLaughlin, an Occupational Therapist and Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist for the past 20 years, directs Bacharach’s Driver Re-Education program.
Clients are often referred to the driving program by their doctors if they are unsure of their ability to drive due to a medical condition. Those under the care of a physician for conditions such as a stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, MS or Parkinson’s disease must be medically cleared by a physician before they are able to return to driving, according to New Jersey State Law.
Once referred to the Driving Program, the client will participate in a Pre-Driver Evaluation. This evaluation tests the patient’s vision, reaction time and thinking skills. When the client successfully passes the Pre-Driver Evaluation, they progress to a Behind the Wheel Evaluation. If the client fails either of these evaluations, they need to wait six months before taking the test again.
Some clients require specialized adaptive driving equipment to operate a vehicle due to their medical condition. The vehicle can be adapted with different types of driving equipment based on each client’s needs. Clare explained, “A spinner knob is attached to the steering wheel for a client who only has the use of one hand. A left foot accelerator cross-over pedal is mounted on the floor for a client who is unable to use the right foot on the gas pedal and brake. Hand controls to operate gas and brake are attached to the vehicle for a client who is unable to use their legs for driving.”
Many times, clients with visual deficits from a brain injury or stroke need re-education in order to drive. Clare explained, “Some of our clients have vision loss or double vision. I can provide them with training to help them safely and independently operate a vehicle while using prism glasses prescribed and issued by a neuro-optometrist.”
Clare also works with new drivers and shared, “If a teenager has a brain injury, they usually come to our program versus a regular driving school, since their cognition and visual perceptual skills are continually assessed as they progress through all driving situations. I teach them the entire driving process.”
Sessions last one hour and there is a pre-set route each driver needs to complete. Clare will frequently start in a quiet residential area and progress to a two-lane, then a four-lane road, before graduating to the highway. Clare also takes clients through large shopping center parking lots to help them gain experience safely operating a vehicle in this environment. She continues with the training until they are independent and ready to drive in any road situation.
Once clients have passed the re-education program, they go the Motor Vehicle Agency to complete the road test. Any equipment they have in their vehicle will be noted as a restriction code on their license. “People are thrilled when they pass their test. A huge part of being independent involves driving to work, visiting family, and attending community events and activities,” Clare said.