When Can I Drive Again?
It is important for your safety and the safety of others that your readiness to go back to driving be assessed by health professionals. Your doctor, plus an occupational therapist (OT) or psychologist, and/or a driver rehab specialist are part of this assessment. You should not make the decision to start driving again on your own.
Enough time needs to have passed after your brain injury before you explore your goal of driving. This is to make sure that your brain has had time to recover.
Readiness to Drive
The following can be changed by your brain injury. Problems in one or more of these areas can affect your ability to drive safely.
Many medical conditions can put you at greater risk for a car crash e.g. seizures, uncontrolled diabetes
- Changes to your vision can impact driving. These changes could be low vision, double vision, visual field loss, visual acuity, depth perception (ability to perceive or judge distance) and contrast sensitivity (the ability to see objects that do not stand out from their background).
- Your doctor may send you to an optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye specialist) for more tests and treatment
Thinking and perception
Thinking and perception are important so you can:
- Be aware of and pay attention to everything around you (in front, behind, beside) at all times, without missing anything or getting confused
- Be fast and accurate with your thinking reaction time e.g. how long it takes to decide what to do
- Judge distances between your car and other objects, such as another vehicle, pedestrians, curbs or other obstacles
- Accurately understand what you see around you to identify potential risks, read social signs from other motorists, and find landmarks
- Anticipate the action of other drivers and make the right decisions on how to react
- Remember where you are going and what you just saw
- Have enough energy to drive safely without getting overly tired. When you get tired your brain is not able to handle all the information coming at it, so your response can be slowed or absent.
- Be aware of your limits and know that you may be unsafe to drive
- You need to be fast and accurate with your physical reactions when driving. This includes the ability to brake in an emergency and evasive steering.
- If you have trouble with moving, strength and coordinating your arms, legs and head you may need special equipment to drive safely. There is special equipment (adaptive driving aids) for your car so you can safely use the hand and foot controls, steering wheel and mirrors.
Behaviour, emotional control and good driving habits
These are important so you can:
- keep calm when you are driving with no signs of anger or road rage
- Show safe driving habits like:
- following the rules of the road
- not drinking alcohol or taking drugs
- not speaking on a cell phone or text messaging when driving
Process for Drivers with Medical Conditions
(Includes persons with an acquired brain injury)
Deciding whether you can drive again is a complex process that involves many people and agencies. The process can be long and frustrating. Everyone is unique so there may be some differences in your path back to driving.
Fitness to drive safely
- Problems in the "readiness to drive" factors may be noticed by your doctor, another member of your healthcare team, your family or yourself
- Any problems are a reason for concern about your ability to drive safely. By law, your doctor must report the concern to the Office of the Superintendant of Motor Vehicles (OSMV)
- Even if there are no concerns about your to drive safely, you should still get your doctors approval before driving
Office of the Superintendant of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) determines next step
- The Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) is the provincial government agency, responsible for ensuring road safety and regulating who can legally drive
- The OSMV reviews information from the medical community, law enforcement agencies, and Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) licensing when making decisions about a driver’s license
- The fact sheet “When the Driving Ability of Someone Concerns You: Unsolicited Driver Fitness Reports” states what OSMV may require of you in order to determine whether you are safe to drive again, such as:
1. Driver Medical Examination (DME)
Your doctor will do a driver medical examination at the request of the OSMV and fill out a form that is then sent to OSMV
2. Functional Driving Assessment
You may be asked to complete one of these two assessments:
Driver Rehab Assessment
- For persons who have a good potential to go back to driving after an illness or injury
- This assessment may be the best one for persons with a brain injury
- The goal is to help the person to go back to driving by offering assessments, lessons, strategies and vehicle modification, if needed
- Is best for persons with progressive cognitive conditions and impairments
- Assessment involves an in-clinic perceptual and cognitive screen, and may be followed by an on-road assessment
- Rehabilitation and compensatory strategies are not addressed
- Not appropriate for those with visual or physical impairment
3. ICBC Road Test
You may be asked to take a drivers re-examination road test and a new vision check
If you get your license but need adaptive driving aids, a restriction will be put on your license. This makes sure that your vehicle insurance is valid when you use the specialized driving equipment.
Who pays and how much does it cost?
- The places that do Functional Driving Assessments set their own fees
- Funding may be available all or in part through third party funders (e.g. ICBC, WorkSafe BC) and extended health plans (if they cover OT services), or through OSMV.
- If it is not covered, you may need to pay for the cost of the assessment yourself. The cost can usually be submitted as a medical expense on your income tax return.
How long does the whole process take?
- The length of time varies for each person
- There are many different groups involved i.e. healthcare team, driver rehab centre, OSMV, licensing. Each group needs time to work with you.
- You can expect the whole process to take about 3-6 months
Where can I get a functional driver assessment?
- Driver Rehab Programs lists available programs in BC
Want more information?
StrokEngine provides an information sheet on Driving after a Stroke
Photo credits: (from top of page) Bala/flickr (cc), Horia Varlan/flickr (cc), Mark Woodbury/flick (cc)
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