Brain Injury Driver Rehabilitation

driver rehab specialist

We’re one of few centers to offer a driver rehabilitation training and evaluation program. It’s free for patients who qualify and is real road training, not simulators.

Driving is one of those skills that our patients most want to regain for independence. Freedom to travel on your own is an essential skill and we make it happen. The program is included at no-cost for our patients and is also available to others for a reasonable fee.

Pate’s driver training program employs Driver Rehabilitation Specialists certified by the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Services (ADED).

The program is one of few that does not utilize a simulator. On-the-road training is believed to better prepare participants for real road conditions.

“One of the top five goals for some of our high-level patients is to return to driving,” said Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist Christine Nelson, Registered Occupational Therapist at Pate. “Since we know our patients and have them for longer periods of time, we are better equipped to determine readiness or fitness to drive than most other driving programs.”


driver rehab specialist
Amanda, one of our driver rehab specialists

Eligibility Requirements for Driver Rehabilitation Program:

• Must be a current patient.
• Must already have a driver’s license.
• Must have a physician’s order stating the patient is medically, physically, and cognitively able to drive.
• Must require only low-tech adaptive equipment in order to drive, such as hand controls, spinner knobs, or other equipment that can be mechanically added.

(Pate’s Driving Program is not designed for patients who need high-tech adaptive equipment, such as voice activated systems or head controlled units.)


Key Skills

For patients who meet the eligibility requirements, a neuropsychological evaluation and clinical assessment will be conducted, with minimum qualifications necessary on these key competencies:

• Vision
• Visual perception
• Hearing
• Physical function
• Reaction time
• Cognitive function (attention, judgment, executive functioning, mental processing speed, sequencing, memory, and knowledge of road rules)

After completion of the Pate Driving Program, final clearance from the Department of Public Safety (DPS), is required. This may require an appearance before the Medical Advisory Board.

Many patients graduate with no restrictions and can use their license again. Some patients may be granted a provisional license, which could limit the individual’s driving privileges to roads with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour or less.

Some provisional licenses also specify that the driver can only drive to work and home. Final decisions are made by the Department of Public Safety.



Slow Down and Proceed With Caution:  Return to Driving After a Brain Injury

By Sid Dickson, Ph.D., ABPP

Driving is a skill we learn that provides us the ability to go where we want, when we want.  It opens up all sorts of opportunities for us to explore. But, what happens when we suddenly lose that opportunity?  How does it affect our lives?  Just think about how often we  “hop in the car” for one reason or another. We rely on driving nearly everyday to get where we want to go.

After a brain injury, the driving skills we take for granted may be greatly affected.  Such abilities include visual attention and scanning, information processing speed, visual-motor reaction speed, motor abilities and planning, memory, problem-solving skills, and more.

Following an injury to the brain, one or more of these abilities could be weakened or impaired which then becomes a big safety risk. Often times, an individual with a brain injury is not fully aware of these kinds of weaknesses, and may “feel” perfectly fine to drive.  That’s why a neuropsychological evaluation is very helpful.  This evaluation carefully measures many areas of thinking abilities.  After such an evaluation, the neuropsychologist will analyze the person’s performance and give them, and their family, detailed feedback about how well their brain is functioning.

Many individuals who have areas of weakness or impairment show improvement with interdisciplinary brain injury rehabilitation.  At Pate Rehabilitation, returning an individual to the activity of driving involves a comprehensive step-wise process of evaluation and therapies.  Following evaluations by the neuropsychologist and skilled therapists, an individualized treatment plan is developed that specifically targets the areas of weaknesses.

The treatment plan often incorporates specialized equipment, interactive computer software, and multimedia feedback to train the individual to track and attend to static and moving stimuli using their eyes, arms, legs, and hands.  Our occupational therapists are uniquely trained in the recovery of visual deficits and spatial awareness.

For those individuals that are experiencing difficulty scanning with their eyes or directing attention to one side or the other, Pate has specialized equipment available at each of its neurocognitive therapy centers.  These specialized devices include large, high-definition screens that present moving targets in all visual fields.

In addition to evidence-based therapy interventions, Pate also utilizes an innovative computer software program which was jointly developed by Pate staff along with an information technology company.  This software program prepares the individual for readiness to practice on a driving simulator.

Once the individual passes all steps of the Pate software program, they are then progressed to practicing drivings skills on Pate’s real-life driving simulator. This state-of-the art equipment includes a real-life steering wheel, gauges, foot pedals (“gas” and “brake”), and a “windshield” (three high-definition computer monitors).  Individuals can practice driving at various speeds, environments, night and day, and in various weather conditions, replete with pedestrians on sidewalks.

Following successful completion of skilled rehabilitation interventions and interactive software programs, the interdisciplinary team will recommend the individual to go to a third-party evaluator for an actual, on-the-road, driving evaluation.

This is a practical step in the process of returning to driving, which protects the individual, their passengers, and others around them. The evaluation is beneficial to both the individual and the entire community as it can help determine any strategies needed for safe driving.

The journey from a brain injury to returning to the activity of driving can seem like a long one, but many individuals have made the journey and achieved success!