Driving Center in Anspach Hall could reopen this spring

The Center for Driving Evaluation, Education and Research in Anspach Hall has been on hiatus for over a year, but may return this spring.

The DEER Center's mission statement is to "provide clinical services to evaluate cognitive fitness to drive, to provide education, to improve driver safety and to conduct research on driver safety," according to its website.

Richard Backs, director of the DEER Center, said he's hoping the center reopens this spring. It was previously located in the Health Professions Building at Central Michigan University but was moved when the space was needed for other purposes.

The process of moving to Anspach Hall has taken longer than expected, Backs said. Part of the wait is because of a remodel and making sure the equipment is working.

A major problem is some of the center’s clients have mobility issues. While some people had difficulty getting to the previous location, they have had more trouble getting to Anspach Hall because it is not a clinical building, Backs said.

One possible solution would be having designated handicapped parking closer to the building, he said.

The setup wasn't optimal in the Health Professions Building, Backs said. The center was split into two wings of the building, but now will be together in Anspach Hall, Room 003.

Use of the DEER Center requires a referral from a health care provider. The center conducts driving evaluations for cognitive fitness to older adults, people who have suffered a brain injury or stroke, people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and young people with attention, neurological or development disorders.

The DEER Center was created in 2007 with a grant from the CMU Vision 2010 strategic plan and a gift from AAA Michigan to receive the AAA Michigan Driving Simulator. It is currently supported by research funds and clients, Backs said.

The center has performed about 10 evaluations since it opened, Backs said. However, it has taken on several research contracts for companies including Toyota and General Motors. Moreover, he said the research for these companies focuses on driver attention and expertise.

The DEER Center provides graduate students in psychology, gerontology and physical therapy experience working with seniors and clinical patients.

A driving simulator of an economy-sized automobile mounted on a movable base with LCD rear-view mirrors is also included in the center. Screens in the front and to the sides of the vehicle display roads that move along with the vehicle.

"Once you get the hang of (the driving simulator), it's not too hard," graduate student Justin Lach said. "It's kind of fun. It definitely feels like you're driving a real vehicle."

In addition to the driving simulator, visual function testing and computer-based cognitive function testing are also being conducted.