Important advice on driving after a brain injury

One of my regular readers asked me for advice on driving after my brain injury. I made a few mistakes, and wish I could turn the clock back to undo them. But I haven’t got Dr Who’s tardis, so the best I can do is admit to my errors, and hope others can learn from them.

UK law on driving after a head injury.

Put simply, if you have a serious head injury and have a UK drivers license, you MUST tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency). If you don’t you can be fined £1,000 and prosecuted if you cause an accident. Below is a link to their site explaining what forms you need to complete. https://www.gov.uk/head-injury-and-driving

Advice on driving

Mistake number 1 – Don’t expect your GP to be able to advise you on how suitable you are for continuing to drive.

I asked my GP if my injury was severe enough for me to have to inform the DVLA. However, as I hadn’t been formally diagnosed with a brain injury at that point she had no information to go on. So she asked if I felt confident, and put on note on my medical file that we’d had the conversation.

Looking back I realise that I wasn’t being honest with myself. Yes I was nervous, but I put that down to the mental trauma of having been involved in a car accident.  Maybe I just needed to push through it. I believed in the saying “get straight back on the horse”. When I was a child the saddle slipped on the horse I was riding and nearly got kicked in the head whilst hanging on for my dear life. But my parents said I needed to get back on immediately. That way I wouldn’t be frightened of horses for the rest of my life. And seeing as I love horses and respect them, but I’m not frightened of them, I decided there was a lot of truth in the saying.

i-dont-need-a-drivers-license-to-drive-someone-mad

Any way, I digress. My nervousness wasn’t just about worrying I could be in another accident. I now realise it was because my brain wasn’t ready. My reactions were slower and my spacial awareness was off. No accidents happened, but that might be more down to other drivers actions rather than mine. It was my responsibility to inform the DVLA so they could decide if I should surrender my license whilst I recovered.

Mistake number 2 – Thinking that remembering how to drive is enough.

A UK drivers license is issued up until the driver is 70, and then they need to reapply. This is because as we age our health changes, which can affect our ability to drive. Makes sense.  Sometimes older drivers haven’t realised that they are struggling as the changes have happened over a long period of time. So the system is set up to help identify when it’s no longer safe for them to continue. Some might be surprised when they are told they need to stop. As they still remember how to operate a car, and could give you a lesson on the highway code. 

So my advice on driving after a brain injury is think of yourself as no different than the pensioner who is surprised they can’t drive anymore. Knowing the theory isn’t enough. I wasn’t able to accurately assess my abilities, so it’s better to let the authorities do it for you.

straight-roads-dont-make-great-drivers

Don’t panic UK drivers, I did go back and do the right thing

To all the other motorists I share the road with, after I was formally diagnosed with a TBI, I did go back and explain to the DVLA. But as that came a year after my injury, I had recovered enough by then to be fully competent again.

So my advice on driving after a brain injury is simple. Don’t ignore those nervous feelings, and if passengers are getting nervous too, it’s best to stop. You might think everything is OK, but that might be because you’re not able to assess the hazards properly. Believe me, your future self will thank you for it.

Don’t expect too much of yourself when you are allowed to return to driving. You are not that different from a newly qualified driver, just that you remember having more journeys. But you need to rebuild your experience again.

If you would like more advice on driving after a brain injury, the charity Headway have a really useful guide on it.

Headway- Driving after brain injury ebooklet.

Other articles you might like:

What was your experience of driving again? What advice on driving would you like other brain injury survivors to know?

Advice for driving again after suffering a brain injury.

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4 Replies to “Important advice on driving after a brain injury”

  1. Here in California the hospital is required to notify DMV who suspended me pending administrative review. My GP Rreferred me to a program run by occupational therapists. After evaluation and compretesting on reaction times and vision, I was released to take acrequired toadvexam at DMV. After passing and one additional administrative procedure my suspension was lifted and I can again drive. But. Be aware of your neuro fatigue. The things moving fast will crush it if you’re prone.

    Also I still have a bit of left neglect (right side injury) so holding in a lane is a challenge

  2. Here in Ontario, Canada any physician has to report a driver to the MTO if they treat a person who has an impairment that could effect their ability to drive safely. In my case after my ruptured aneurysm my license was suspended and then after my family doctor returned the correct paperwork for a medical review the MTO required me to complete a driver reassessment. This involved tests for reaction time, memory, hazard perception and judgement all carried out with an occupational therapist. Having met the required standard on these tests I was allowed to take the driving section with the OT and driving instructor. The driving section is standardized and covers the different types of settings one would have to drive in. If (as in my case) you fail the driving section, the OT and instructor can recommend top up or practice lessons and you will be allowed to re take the driving section again. I completed this early this year and regained my driving license, unfortunately 3 months afterwards I had a seizure and had my license suspended again. This time, because it was a seizure after 6 months a neurologist can recommend that the license is returned to me. I guess he will have to make a judgment call based on experience and the various test results.

    As for neuro fatigue that was one of my worries when I started driving again. To test this I picked a quiet Saturday in spring and I planned a rural driving route with regular stops, about three or four, that I could drive and took my wife along with me. I wanted to do this to test myself and having my wife come along I had a backup driver if I felt overloaded from the drive, plus we had a good day out.

    1. I wish that it was the same here, but instead they leave the responsibilities up to the driver. But my decision making wasn’t up to scratch.

    2. Sounds like the system works well there, and you have a very sensible approach to it. Good luck and I hope the seizures don’t return.

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