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Since 1999, Saint Elizabeth’s Driver Assessment and Training Program has been assessing and training drivers of various ages and disabilities.

Jennifer is a 20 year old University of Waterloo student whose goal was to obtain her driver’s license and achieve greater independence with a vehicle modified for her needs. After some research she chose Saint Elizabeth because of the quality of the instructors and the availability of a modified vehicle for her training and testing.

Read More about Rod Lightheart

Getting Rod Lightheart on the road again

Rod Lightheart has been driving for almost 50 years. He never expected he'd have to take a driver training course. Then again, he never expected he'd have a stroke.

But that's what happened to Rod, a psychotherapist who lives in Oshawa, just before Christmas 2012. He spent two months in the hospital, and several more in rehab. His drivers licence was suspended because he's suffered a "neurological deficit", so he sought out a driver rehabilitation program to get him back on the road.

"Saint Elizabeth has a great reputation," says Rod. "I talked to a number of occupational therapists and a physiotherapist, and they said 'Definitely, if you can, go to Saint Elizabeth', so I thought, I'm going to go for the best."

Even though he'd had a stroke, Rod wasn't convinced he needed the services of a driver rehab facility. Except for one speeding ticket, he had a perfect driving record and had never been involved in an accident. Nonetheless, at the request of his doctor and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Rod went to the North York site of the Saint Elizabeth Driver Assessment & Training Services.

"I have to admit, I was a bit arrogant when I came in. I thought, 'I've been driving for 47 years, why do I have to take Driver Training?' Then I realized I had a lot to learn. I would not have been able to pass my final driver's exam (in January 2014) if it hadn't been for this program. And I give them credit for it."

Shah Baqar, an occupational therapist at Saint Elizabeth's Driver Assessment and Training, says most of the clients he sees are as anxious as Rod was to have their licences re-instated.

"The reality of driving is that it's such an instrumental part of people's lives, and it's so key and important to people's well-being," says Shah. "When someone's able to drive, they can go to work, run their errands, get their groceries, respond to emergency situations. Not being able to drive can be life-changing for people."

Before clients get behind the wheel, Shah and his colleagues do a thorough assessment of their physical and cognitive abilities in the clinic. In Rod's case, they found that he doesn't have full use of his left hand because of the stroke. For this reason, it was determined that he would need a special type of adaptive control – a spinner knob with relocated secondary controls that would allow him to turn the steering wheel, using only his right hand. He can activate the indicators, wipers, wipers wash and horn at the push of buttons on the spinner knob.

"I have complete control, all the time I'm driving. It's a marvelous device."

Then it's time to get behind the wheel. The Saint Elizabeth instructors take every precaution to keep themselves, and their clients safe. Shah says Rod did a lot better than most during his initial on-road assessment.

"During that first session, we're often going around the parking lot or in residential areas. Rod was an exception. There are very few people who go on the main roads or the highway. But Rod made really good progress during his first drive with us and we felt comfortable with highway driving in our vehicle on that date." Rod will never forget that first trip last July.

"Friday afternoon. Pouring rain. Thunderstorm. Busy traffic heading north. And I thought, 'here we go, sink or swim!' I pulled on the highway. The instructor asked me to change lanes and I did, in between two big trucks. I changed lanes again, passed the trucks, moved over and finally pulled off the highway. I was very proud of what I did. I didn't show the terror in my eyes too obviously to Shah. But I realized again, I had a lot to learn."

Rod came back for five more sessions to perfect driving with the use of adaptive control. His biggest challenge was judging distances for braking and stopping, though he says that may have had as much do with bad habits picked up over 47 years as it did the stroke. That harrowing first drive was good experience for his final Ministry of Transportation (MTO) road test, which lasted more than an hour, on and off Highway 401 in the midst of a snowstorm and flash freeze. When the MTO inspector told him he passed, he was extremely relieved, because his private psychotherapy practice requires him to drive all over Ontario and into Quebec.

"I owe it all to Saint Elizabeth. They gave me a new confidence. They taught me the adaptive skills that I needed. (Having my licence) has offered me employment, the ability to socialize and go shopping on my own. I have my self-esteem and my independence back."

Unfortunately, not everyone who comes to a driver rehab program is able to get back behind the wheel. But when they do, it's extremely gratifying for Shah.

"There's no experience like it for me, to get someone back to driving, to get them back to life. That's essentially what driving is for people."

Rod Lightheart was just one of nearly 300 clients of Saint Elizabeth's Driver Training and Assessment program in 2013.

Legal and Regulatory Reporting Information

In Ontario, all drivers are required to meet certain medical and vision standards to operate a motor vehicle.

Currently, physicians and optometrists are required to report any patient with a medical or visual condition that may impair their driving. In the near future this list may expand to include other health professionals. Police may also report drivers who they feel may be medically unfit to drive. Once the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) receives a report, it is the MTO that will determine the status of a driver’s license.

Find out more about medical standards and tests for non-commercial drivers at: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/medical-vision-standards.shtml

Saint Elizabeth Driver Assessment and Training is approved by the Ministry of Transportation to provide medical and vision driving assessments.

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