It May Not Be Safe To Drive After Brain Injury

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Silhouette of a car driving

Driving after a concussion may be dangerous to yourself and other drivers around you according to a new study out of the UK. As The Almagest reports, individuals who resume driving shortly after a traumatic brain injury may appear physically healthy but possibly have memory problems and may exhibit behavior that could impair the ability to drive safely. However, the majority of those diagnosed with TBI are not banned from or even advised against driving.

“Although most of those people who had returned to driving were physically competent to drive a vehicle, it may be argued that some were putting themselves and others at risk due to their psychological, emotional, and cognitive problems,” the study from the University of Warwick in Coventry says.

The study interviewed over 500 men and women with mild to severe brain injury over a two-and-a-half year period. The researchers also interviewed the family members of those participating.

Of the roughly 380 patients who reported driving before the injury, nearly 40% said they had continued to drive since the injury. Around 11 percent of the previous drivers had been restricted from driving after their injury, most commonly due to the risk of seizure, not due to memory or cognitive abilities. An additional five percent said they had been advised against getting behind the wheel.

However, over 50 percent of those who said they had continued to drive after the injury also were found to have incomplete clinical recovery. Sixty-five percent reported memory problems, and around 50 percent said they had behavioral problems such as aggression or anger issues. Thirty percent reported having visual problems. It should be noted, these symptoms were also reported at roughly the same rates within non-drivers.

The researchers conclude their study by saying these problems could significantly affect the ability to drive, but they do not prevent the patients from doing so. They also suggest that patients be assessed for both mental and physical status before being allowed back on the road after a brain injury.

I personally agree with the sentiment, as I first hand suffered a brain injury which made driving potentially dangerous, and yet I drove regularly throughout my entire recovery, including a road trip to Chicago late in the recovery. I still remember one moment when driving with a friend, when I became lost in a part of town we had been in countless times before. I entirely forgot where I was and everything seemed foreign for minutes before finally I could remember my surroundings. However, I continued to drive because there were no restrictions, and I had doctors appointments and other responsibilities to uphold.

If I dealt with such a situation, there are certainly many others who have suffered brain injuries and continued to drive, even though they may be aware they are potentially impaired and possibly dangerous. Making changes in the medical assessment of abilities to determine the possible safety of driving for a brain injury patient could possibly prevent car accidents and protect patients from themselves.

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