Serious injuries can make it hard for people to get back behind the wheel of a car, but medical professionals have developed a process to make it a little bit easier.

The DriveABLE assessment program was introduced at St. Mary’s General Hospital’s wellness rehabilitation centre in 2006. Focusing on people with minor injuries or cognitive impairments, DriveABLE determines if its patients are able to drive competently.

“It allows people who have suffered from head injuries or strokes to be able to rehab, get back on the road again and gain back their independence,” says wellness centre manager Luann Skovsgaard.

The test is also able to be used as a baseline when dealing with people with dementia.

“Their reflexes, reaction time, memory and judgment, those types of things may be impacted by medication or by a psychological problem,” she said.

Once the results of the test are known, a doctor makes the ultimate decision on whether to report concerns to the Ministry of Transportation. Then occupational therapists like Erika Pond Clements are put on the case.

“It’s my role to interpret all that information and help determine if there is rehab potential,” she explains.

Clients who outright fail the test are able to try again after taking lessons or completing rehabilitation programs.

In some cases, the occupational therapist may find that the patient will be able to return to driving, but only after an adjustment is made to their vehicle. Adjustments can be as simple as adding a spinner knob or as complex as installing a wheelchair lift and making the vehicle fully accessible.

Sparrow-Hawk, part of the Shoppers Home Health Care automotive division with a location in Waterloo, is one of the leading Canadian companies when it comes to adapting vehicles.

Most of their clients have experienced difficulty driving after injury or illness.

Modifications done by Sparrow-Hawk include raised roofs, accessible steering controls, and anything else necessary for their clients to drive.

“It’s a custom modification in almost every case, so we want to make sure that everything fits them properly and that the outcome is positive for them,” says Mark Andrews of Sparrow-Hawk.

“We love to see the smile on their face when they get behind the wheel again.”