- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Potential drivers as young as 14 years old and as old as 95 can have their skills behind the wheel evaluated using technology that is unique to central Illinois.

The not-for-profit Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s Adaptive Driving School uses a driving simulator to decide if patients have the cognitive and physical ability to operate vehicles. If they do not, Sara Knowles, an occupational therapist and driving instructor at IPMR, can use the simulator as a rehabilitation tool before using an actual vehicle.

“We try to give people their independence through driving,” said Knowles at the driving school’s open house Thursday. “Some people may just need some form of physical therapy to continue.”

For those IPMR recommends to retire from driving, the organization informs the patient of other forms of transportation.

Knowles said the firm, 6501 N. Sheridan Road, is an objective assessor of the patient’s driving skills. Family members and doctors may be hesitant to tell people they should not drive, so IPMR has to be the bearer of bad news. However, it does have the facts of the patient’s driving tests to back up its recommendation.

The simulator puts the patient at the wheel of a stationary vessel, driving through virtual roads on a screen. It uses various tests to gauge a user’s reaction time, steering ability and safety. While the simulator is mostly used by stroke victims or families who want to know if a relative can still drive, teens with disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome, cerebral palsy or physical disabilities also use the machine.

Those with physical disabilities can use adaptive technologies, donated by United Access, such as alternative steering, accelerating and braking.

The fully functional Ford Explorer the driving school uses, which was donated by an anonymous Peoria couple last year, has a hand-controlled brake and accelerator for those with lower-body complications. People with upper-body issues, for example a stroke victim who lost physical capabilities of his left arm, can use a steering aid that makes one-handed steering easier.

IPMR President Rick Zehr said people come from all over the state just to use the Adaptive Driving School. He said the simulator is the best of its kind and Wheaton is the next-closest town with similar driving services.

“In many cases, people who (need an adaptive driving school) could not or would not be driven two hours away,” he said. “It allows people of Peoria to get the care they otherwise wouldn’t get.”

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Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/1HzByMD

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Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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