“Clearly, there is great need for more 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 driving with at-risk drivers, the need for qualified professionals is rapidly increasing.”
Funding also will be used for a research 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, which is directed by Dickerson, focuses on driving evaluation, training and rehabilitation with a special emphasis on older drivers. The purpose is to help older drivers retain their freedom, independence and keep or return them safely to the road. ECU is a leader in this research area.
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, and in two-vehicle fatal crashes involving an older and younger driver, the older person was twice as likely to be struck. 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 that lose their judgment with cognitive deficits, Dickerson said.