Self-determination and mobility are important for everyone – and especially for people with physical and mobility impairments. Many people with disabilities that were caused by accidents are initially still insecure when they want to actively return to driving. To help them in slowly easing back into traffic, the Austrian CLUB MOBIL offers driver safety courses. Aside from theoretical and practical exercises, fundamental aspects such as converting one’s vehicle are also being discussed.
In this interview with REHACARE.com, founder Edith Grünseis-Pacher explains what requirements students need to fulfill to participate and how this helps to improve mobility for people with disabilities.
Ms. Grünseis-Pacher, you provide driver safety training for people with disabilities. How did you come up with the idea?
Edith Grünseis-Pacher: I had a severe car accident in 1989 and spent three years in a rehabilitation center. I have been confined to a wheelchair since then. I was no longer able to drive a car after the accident. At the time, driver safety courses for people with physical and mobility impairments were not available; I wanted to close this gap. This is why I launched the CLUB MOBIL initiative and focused on improving the mobility of persons with disabilities and increasing road safety. I have developed training courses where people are taught appropriate action in extreme situations.
These courses are aimed at people with a degree of disability of at least 50 percent. The participants complete the course using their own car to be able to react quickly and act properly in critical situations in the future. Obviously, you also need a valid driver’s license. At the end, participants receive a certificate of participation.
There is a theoretical and practical portion. How are they designed?
Grünseis-Pacher: At first, the physics of driving is carefully explained so people become aware of how and why a vehicle responds the way it does. Subsequently, there are practical exercises in the ÖAMTC Driving Centers (Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club). We offer two modules in the ”Training mit Handicap“ (English: training for people with disabilities) project. The first module shows how to correctly avoid obstacles and brake on different road surfaces. We also practice how to get a skidding vehicle back under control and respond properly in curves. The second module, which can only be taken after participating and completing module one twice, features additional exercises in a special aquaplaning tank and a handling segment where all of the previously practiced extreme situations need to be mastered.
The driver safety training only differs in one aspect from training that also needs to be completed by professional drivers or private individuals. On our tracks in our facilities, participants don’t have to step out of the vehicle every time for explanations. We have adapted this aspect based on the physical condition of our participants.
You also offer a driving aptitude assessment. Who is this test aimed at?
Grünseis-Pacher: The driving aptitude assessment is a project I developed in 2007 due to high demand. Originally, it was exclusively aimed at patients with neurological disorders. After more and more hospitals and various medical specialists kept inquiring about it, we expanded our target group to people who are affected by issues related to internal medicine, accidents or age. The primary objective of driving aptitude assessments is to test before you address any public authorities, whether you are still able and safe to drive after having a stroke or multiple sclerosis for example. By now, our service has also been adopted into the Driver’s License Ordinance. One significant improvement compared to traditional test methods is that driving aptitude is not tested based on theoretical assignments at a simulator or computer, but the practical implementation of driving aptitude is instead assessed by two specially trained mobility specialists in a driving school vehicle that’s adapted to the respective student’s needs.
What exactly is being tested?
Grünseis-Pacher: We first inform participants about the potential personal limitations they might have driving the car – based on their illness or disability. In seven exercises, basic skills are being tested in traffic reduced areas. Subsequently, the driving style is being analyzed in real situations for 60 minutes. During a standardized observation trip in traffic, special attention is paid to the required vehicle-specific performance aspects such as attention, reaction, concentration and the ability to keep track of the overall situation. During the drive, one expert acts as the driving instructor and is able to take over in case of an emergency. The second mobility specialist observes – among other things – the behavior of the student and his viewing ability. The impressions are documented during the drive in yet another standardized protocol. After this lesson, participants complete a self-assessment form. After the authorities have issued an official certificate based on the analysis, the student and family members are invited to a final meeting. The behavior during the drive, the result of the driving aptitude test, the future course of action and potentially necessary vehicle adaptations are reviewed. What’s more, the results of the subjective assessment is compared to the objective assessment. Empirically, the perception of the impaired driving license holder drastically differs from the objective expert assessment. These findings are scientifically analyzed in various studies.
How well is this service accepted?
Grünseis-Pacher: The driver safety courses are offered between August and November. The courses are fully sold out every year. We have up to 1,000 participants. We offer the driving aptitude assessments throughout the year during several days of the month.
Interested parties from Germany primarily seek us out for driving aptitude assessments to drive a truck. In 2012, I obtained my driving school instructor license for heavy-duty trucks and tractor-trailers and had a truck converted for this purpose. That’s why I am able to offer driving aptitude assessments for truck drivers with physical impairments.
You have published a study on driving safety assessment in 2012. What were your conclusions?
Grünseis-Pacher: We were able to prove that persons who were labeled “not safe to drive” based on the medical and psychological examination (MPU in German, VPU in Austria), might indeed definitely be able to drive safely. Forty-eight percent of the test results – conducted at the computer – did not match our results from the practical tests. We have therefore concluded that a medical and psychological evaluation is not 100% valid in determining the driving aptitude of a person and that the driving behavior analysis developed by CLUB MOBIL provides safe and reliable information about the actual ability to operate a vehicle.
To what extent are you able to promote the mobility of people with disability with your service?
Grünseis-Pacher: Our driver safety courses give drivers with physical impairments the opportunity to practice the proper handling of dangerous situations. The driving aptitude assessment lets people who have just recently become physically impaired, test – before they have to actually review this with a public authority – whether and to what extent they are once again able to reenter traffic situations, without having to worry about losing their driver’s license. Our students receive tips on various training programs. We are able to give them the ability to stay safe on the road and gain back their mobility in life.