State Farm Grant Supports ECU Older Driver Initiative
By Crystal Baity
East Carolina University has received a $15,000 grant from State Farm Insurance to support continued research into older adult drivers.
State Farm’s Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant, which focuses on community, education, auto and home safety programs, will allow ECU’s Anne Dickerson to finish the development of courses for occupational therapists who want to train as driver rehabilitation specialists or generalists who want to understand the complexity of the driving task.
Dickerson, professor of occupational therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences, is a licensed occupational therapist and driver rehabilitation specialist. The first course will be ready in September.
“Clearly, there is great need for occupational therapists with knowledge of driving screenings, evaluations and when to refer to specialists to do behind-the-wheel assessments,” Dickerson said. “With the advent of the baby boomers and the need to conduct more assessment of at-risk drivers, the need for qualified professionals is rapidly increasing.”
Funding also will be used for a survey that will be sent to all driver specialists to ensure that course content is state-of-the-art and incorporates progressive thinking of experienced practitioners. The grant also will support follow-up focus groups that will expand qualitatively on the collected information.
ECU’s Research for the Older Adult Driver Initiative or ROADI, directed by Dickerson, focuses on driving evaluation, training and rehabilitation with emphasis on older drivers. The goal is to help older drivers retain their independence and keep or return them safely to the road.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show there were 30 million older drivers in 2006, an increase of 18 percent since 1996, with only a 13 percent increase of licensed drivers overall. In 2007, 14 percent of traffic fatalities involved older adults.
Although age isn’t the defining factor, the decline in physical, cognitive and visual/perceptual abilities may precipitate difficulties in the ability to drive. The problem is exacerbated particularly with individuals who lose their judgment with cognitive deficits, Dickerson said.