Back Behind the Wheel

Driving might not be possible for everyone after a brain injury, but for many it is a realistic target, which can greatly increase independence and quality of life. As a complex and potentially dangerous activity, it is important that everyone approaches driving carefully and follows legal requirements.

There are a couple of questions, which are asked frequently.

How Can Driving Be Affected by Brain Injury?

Driving is a complex activity requiring cognitive and physical skills, as well as the ability to co-ordinate these.

A brain injury can affect these skills, as well as a range of other skills, which are relied on by driving. Some of these are listed below:

  • Poor concentration. You may become distracted or confused when there is a lot going on, or easily lose the sense of what you are doing.
  • Reduced reaction time, due to slower speed of information processing.
  • Difficulty switching or dividing attention.
  • Reduced ability to think ahead or anticipate what may happen.
  • Difficulty interpreting what is seen (‘reading the road’), which increases the time needed to make a decision.
  • Poor memory. You may forget where you are going or how to get there, or what to do in a complex road situation.
  • Poor judgement of novel situations.
  • Perceptual difficulties – e.g. inability to pick out a ‘stop’ sign at a busy junction, or to judge speed or distance.
  • Impulsive behaviour, not thinking through the consequences of actions.
  • Inability to control one’s temper or to cope with the frustrations of traffic delays.

While you may feel able to carry on driving after a brain injury, it is important to remember that it can take time to recover and to fully discover the long-term effects of the injury. It might be difficult to accept that, while you still may have the technical ‘know-how’ for driving, other skills relied on by driving have been affected. Alternatively, relatives may be overanxious to protect you if they think you could still be a competent driver. An objective assessment of your abilities could therefore be helpful for both yourself and your family.

A survivor’s ability to drive may change over time as the effects improve or worsen.

Who Do I Need to Inform about My Brain Injury?

By law, you must tell the licensing authority (DVLA in England, Scotland and Wales, and DVA in Northern Ireland) about your brain injury, as they are responsible for making the decision on whether you are safe to drive or not. You can notify the relevant authority by using the government website. Failure to inform authorities could result in a fine of up to £1,000. It would also mean that your licence is not valid and that you would be uninsured in the event of an accident.

You should also tell your vehicle insurance provider about your brain injury.

It can take over six weeks in some cases to hear back from the licensing authority. In the meantime, you should consult your doctor or neurologist as to whether you can continue driving whilst waiting for a decision.

Following the decision, you may be allowed to continue driving as normal, or there may be conditions such as needing to take an expert driving assessment, having the vehicle adapted to make it more suitable, or having a time-related licence after which you will be re-assessed. Your licence may be withdrawn, but you may have the option to reapply later.

If You Are Allowed to Keep Your Licence

You will no doubt feel very pleased and relieved to be told that you are fit to drive. Some general tips for safer, less stressful, driving should still be kept in mind:

  • When you start driving again after your brain injury, it is advisable to have another adult in the car as a passenger for the first few journeys, and to keep those first journeys short.
  • Alcohol will most likely affect you more than it used to before your injury. NEVER DRINK AND DRIVE.
  • Check with your GP about the possible side effects of any medication you are taking, particularly if this has been started recently or the dose has been altered.
  • You may find that you get more tired than usual. Do not drive when you are fatigued. Plan your journey to take account of your best time of day.
  • Plan your route before you set off, including places to stop for breaks on longer journeys.
  • Use a satellite navigation device and be sure to set your route before you start driving. This removes the need to constantly think about your route while driving.
  • Be prepared to alter your plans if you do not feel well enough or alert enough to drive that day.
  • Check the car for fuel and water levels and tyre tread before your journey, especially if you are planning a long journey.
  • Have adequate breakdown cover, and take a mobile phone with you (with credit, and charged). If you receive the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), or scored eight or more points in the ‘moving around’ area of a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment, you will be entitled to a ‘Blue Badge’ for free parking.
  • Inform your insurance company of any modifications to your vehicle or any changes in your condition which could affect your policy. Remember, if there is anything else which may affect your ability to drive, if you develop any other condition, or if an existing condition gets worse, you MUST inform the licensing authority.

If you would like to speak to a member of our Court of Protection team, please contact us.

Happy, safe, driving!