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
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.
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.
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.