Is it safe to drive after a brain injury?

Drivers steering wheel

Are you a driver?  Do you remember sitting in the driver’s seat for the first time?  Do you remember how alien it felt?  Do you remember thinking I will never get the hang of this?

Learning any new skill takes repetition over time.  That alien feeling leaves us and driving becomes second nature, something we do every day without giving it a second thought.

However, the reality is that although driving may seem like second nature it requires us to use both cognitive and physical skills. We need to concentrate, to be alert to understand and to interpret the dynamic environment known as “the road” and to react to it calmly.

How can a brain injury impact on driving?

A brain injury can impair the cognitive and physical skills needed to drive.  You might think you are fine to drive again and you may possess the technical know how to operate a car but your emotional and intellectual impairment may make you unsafe on the road.

It is important to understand the impact your brain injury can have on your ability to drive. No two brain injuries are the same and the effects of a brain injury can vary significantly but a brain injury can impair:-

  • Thinking:  finding it more difficult to understand what is going on ahead and around you, for example, on a multi-lane motorway
  • Memory: you may be more forgetful and not remember what happened earlier in your journey or where you are going
  • Concentration: you may become easily distracted and not be able to focus on everything going on around you
  • Judgement: more challenging to assess situations such as speed you are travelling at
  • Reaction: after a brain injury, reactions can be slower
  • Decision making: tougher to decide on the best course of action for different situations
  • Emotion: more difficult to remain calm and not get angry at other road users.

Illegal not to inform DVLA of head injury

Anyone in Scotland with a “notifiable condition” must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of this.  It is a criminal offence not to do so.  It could end up with a £1,000 fine or, if subsequently involved in an accident, drivers could be prosecuted. A brain injury can be classified as a notifiable condition.

You must also inform your insurance company as this could invalidate your cover.

The DVLA will have the ultimate decision as to whether it is safe or not for you to drive.

What might DVLA do?

Depending on the significance of your brain injury there are a number of options open to the DVLA. They may:

  • Continue to permit you to drive with no restriction
  • Impose a Temporary ban – driving license suspended for a set time period.
  • Time limited/restricted license – drive for a period of time or under certain conditions which will be reviewed.
  • Undergo assessment – may be asked to take part in driving ability assessment
  • Controls fitted – may be asked to have certain controls fitted to your vehicle

What happens if you suffer from seizures?

It is not uncommon to suffer from seizures after a brain or head injury. The DVLA will take into consideration whether it was an isolated incident or if it was an unconscious or conscious seizure.

Driving ability assessment

The DVLA may wish to assess your driving ability which can be done in a variety of ways;

  • Mobility centres for review
  • On and off road driving assessment
  • Ability to drive
  • Adaptations to vehicle
  • Effects of your injury on driving ability

These assessments will make sure that you are fit enough to drive and have the necessary adaptations in place to keep you safe on the roads.

For driving beginners suffering from a head injury

New drivers who have suffered a brain injury must inform the DVLA of this when applying for a Provisional Licence using Form D1.

The DVLA medical advisor will assess your application and either grant your application or ask for more information. They may contact your GP or treating Consultant and undertake a medical examination.

Advice to those driving after a brain injury

If the DVLA grants you permission to drive with a brain injury, there are still some useful tips that Headway recommend you can follow to make it easier for you, and safer;

  • Take another adult on your first journey in the car
  • Check with your GP regarding medication
  • Be aware of fatigue and plan your journey accordingly
  • Use satellite navigation to help you get where you need to be
  • Be prepared to change your plans depending on how you feel
  • Remember to inform your insurance company of any modifications to your car.

Chris Stewart,
Parther & Head of Serious Injury Team

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Chris Stewart