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Driving After a Brain Injury

Following a brain injury, the task of driving can be challenging. Aspects of driving that seemed to require no conscious effort, or apparent concentration before the injury may now require increased attention.

Driving requires accurate depth perception, head turning, rapid responses, attention, concentration, and decision-making abilities. Impairments in any of these areas can make a person an unsafe driver.

Driving is perhaps the most complex activity of daily living. Many things happen at once, and at a very fast pace. Drivers must be able to physically operate a vehicle safely, and pay attention to signs, traffic lights, and traffic flow. An individual must have good visual awareness, and be able to make split-second decisions. Flexible decision-making is also required. For example, a different response may be required in the same traffic situation on different occasions, depending on time, road conditions, or other unexpected events.

In addition, a driver must pay attention to the driving route, and be able to remember the destination. While driving, an individual may have just one destination or a series of destinations, both familiar and unfamiliar, and in a variety of traffic situations. There can be many distractions such as conversation, personal thoughts, the radio, or possibly a cigarette or cup of coffee.

Off-road therapy may be required before a driving evaluation. This is done to work on maintaining attention, improving processing and response time, and visual awareness.

When the patient is ready, a driving evaluation will be done to ensure a safe return to driving. If necessary, driver re-education will be provided. Techniques or equipment may be recommended to compensate for physical or memory problems. 

A patient should not return to driving following a brain injury without a doctor’s specific medical clearance to do so. This also holds true if the patient has recently had a seizure.

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