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Arranging for and conducting a formal driving assessment


Sometimes it may be necessary to conduct a formal assessment of a driver’s skills and limitations. This article describes the process of a formal driving assessment, including who is able to conduct one, preparations and requirements for the evaluation, and the test itself. This article also discusses what comes after the assessment for drivers.

What is a formal driving assessment?

A formal driving assessment is a test to evaluate a driver’s physical and cognitive skills in order to determine suitability for driving, according to local laws. It measures the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. 

Who can perform a driving assessment?

Some driving assessment tests are legally binding and are therefore strictly regulated. State or local Bureau or Department of Motor Vehicles representatives are empowered to perform them in order to ensure that every driver is complying with regulations and in order to prevent future accidents. 

Certified occupational therapists specializing in driving assessments, including Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, may also be qualified, depending on state and local requirements. Often the driver’s physician provides a formal evaluation in the doctor’s office prior to the assessment. 1

Why might a driver require a formal assessment?

There are several reasons an older driver might need a formal assessment. Each driver has a different baseline, so any sudden changes, new medications, or other factors might influence driving habits. These may include: 

  • Medical concerns. Declining vision or hearing can have a serious effect on drivers’ abilities. So can physical weakness, arthritis, or cognitive changes that come with Alzheimer’s and other diseases. Many medications can impair driving, including over-the-counter sleep medicine. Major changes in medication or in physical or mental abilities should prompt a formal assessment.
  • Fatal or negligent crash. Any fatal accident involving a motor vehicle should trigger the need for a formal assessment. The same applies for negligent crashes, especially in drivers over the age of 65. In some states, these formal assessments become requirements in order to maintain or re-apply for a driver’s license.
  • Resuming driving after an extended break. After a lengthy illness or injury takes them off the road, older drivers might be required to re-apply for a new driver’s license. 

What happens before the assessment?

It’s important to be prepared for the assessment and know what to expect. Drivers undergoing an assessment should bring a complete driving history, medication list, and doctor’s office records. This will help the evaluator make a sound judgment about an older driver’s abilities.

  • Compile a driving history. This driving history should include how often and where the driver typically travels in any given week. It should also include the type of travel: rural or city driving, mostly daytime driving or more evening and night driving, and who and what is usually in the car with the driver. Finally, a formal driving record should be included, describing past accidents, tickets, near-misses, or other observations from frequent passengers.
  • Review medications. Several medications taken by older people may affect driving ability. It’s important to talk to a person’s doctor about interactions or medications that might make driving more difficult.
  • Get a physical evaluation. A doctor can also perform a few tests to check for vision and hearing loss, balance issues, or other factors that might play a part in an older person’s driving abilities.

What happens during the assessment?

The driving assessment generally takes two to three hours, but may vary by location. Some may take several hours. During the formal evaluation, a qualified person will first test the driver’s physical and cognitive state. They will then review medications, doctor’s notes, and the testee’s driving record. Then a full on-the-road test will happen. The evaluator will monitor reaction time, road safety, and other factors that influence driving ability.

What happens after the assessment?

After the assessment, the evaluator will send notes and recommendations. They may declare the driver safe to drive as they are. They may recommend driving aids like improved mirrors or pedal extenders. They may also recommend physical and occupational therapy to build strength and flexibility. Sometimes an evaluator will place restrictions on the type of driving permitted, like restricting to daytime driving only or no freeway driving. Finally, an evaluator can recommend that the driver’s license be revoked or suspended due to unsafe driving. Depending on the role of the person conducting the assessment and state regulations, this recommendation may be legally binding. 

Related information

Curtailing unsafe driving habits

Factors that contribute to unsafe driving

Getting help with an unsafe driver

Modifying driving habits of older adults

Physically limiting vehicle access for unsafe drivers

Reviewing driving regulations and legal risks

Unsafe driving warning signs

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