New UF program can provide assessments, rehabilitation plans for older drivers and those with medical conditions that could affect the ability to drive.
The University of Florida on Thursday launched a program geared toward helping drivers stay or get back on the road safely.
The SmartDrive Driver Rehabilitation program will offer people in Alachua and Marion counties a more convenient place to go for a driving assessment.
“Until now, people had to travel to Jacksonville or Orlando,” said Luther King, a certified driver rehabilitation specialist who will provide the assessments and rehabilitation plans.
The program is for older adults or others with medical conditions that may affect their ability to drive safely. Clients get referred for assessments by doctors or the courts. Many also enter the program on a volunteer basis or through concerned family members.
Physical, visual and written tests gauge such things as strength, range of motion, mental acuity and depth perception, said Sherrilene Classen, the program director.
Once a full picture of a client’s strengths and deficiencies are complete, staff can tailor a plan to keep them driving or at least stay mobile. That could mean special equipment for vehicles, including manual accelerator and brake controls, oversized rear-view mirrors or other equipment. If there is no recourse, they will work to match the person with services and agencies that provide transportation.
“Driving may be a privilege, but mobility is a right,” Classen said.
For those who can benefit from driving rehabilitation, the program offers an immersive simulator that takes clients through a limitless array of driving scenarios, from the most basic to challenging situations that require quick reactions. Clients sit in a full-sized car, with full controls, including a working air conditioner and radio.
“We can program just about any situation you can think of,” Classen said adding that they also will use the simulator for research including on the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana.
The simulator’s control panel can even vary the fuel level and engine temperature of the car. While there are some sensory responses built into the car, including vibrations, it does lack movement to simulate turns, stops and acceleration.
In addition to the simulator, clients also can drive specially-equipped vehicles to get real-world practice.
While the state can mandate an assessment, it is not usually covered by insurance. Assessments cost about $500 and rehabilitation plans vary. Classen said certain vocational rehabilitation programs or other agencies may help with the cost.
In Marion County, the population of people 65 or older eclipsed the 100,000 mark recently. In July, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 28.6 percent of the more than 354,000 people in Marion County were 65 or older. Alachua County’s population of more than 266,000 included 13.6 percent or more than 36,000 people aged 65 or older.
In addition to older drivers, people who suffer neurological injuries, surgeries or who suffer from other conditions that limit mobility may benefit from the program, which is offered through the department of occupational therapy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.
Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or email@example.com.