Although we may take it for granted, driving is a very complex activity requiring a number of cognitive and physical skills, as well as the ability to co-ordinate these. Any of these skills may be impaired after a brain injury.
Can I drive after brain injury?
Fortunately, many people who have sustained a brain injury retain most of their previous driving abilities, and are able to return to driving soon afterwards. However, there are legal requirements which must be adhered to.
It is sensible to take precautions such as having a driving assessment, even if you feel that your driving skills remain intact. It should be remembered that a car is a potentially lethal weapon: many people with a brain injury were themselves injured in a road traffic collision.
It can be relatively straightforward to make adaptations to a vehicle in order to compensate for physical disabilities. However, the less obvious effects of brain injury – on thinking, memory, judgement, decision making and emotions – can be more difficult to overcome.
Ultimately, the decision on whether someone is safe to drive lies with the licensing authorities. This booklet explains the processes involved in reporting a medical condition and provides advice on minimising cognitive and physical impairments.
What are the legal requirements for driving after brain injury?
If you drive and have had a brain injury, you must inform the licensing authorities. This applies to any ‘notifiable’ condition which could affect your ability to drive and failure to inform the authorities could result in a fine of up to £1000. It would also mean that your licence is not valid and that you would be uninsured in the event of an accident.
As a general rule, the medical standards state that after a traumatic brain injury drivers with an ordinary car or motorcycle (Group 1) licence should cease driving for 6 to 12 months, depending on factors such as post-traumatic amnesia, seizures, and clinical recovery. Other forms of acquired brain injury have slightly different rules, but if there are lasting impairments which affect driving ability then the licence is likely to be removed for a period.
However, because every brain injury is different, each case is considered on an individual basis.
Further information on the legal requirements, rules for professional drivers and how to inform the authorities is contained in the Headway booklet Driving after brain injury, which is available to download in the Related resources section.
Support with driving after brain injury
As your driving ability can change after a brain injury, you may need support to get back on the road.
If you are receiving the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance or the enhanced rate moving around component of Personal Independence Payment, you may be able to get a car through Motability. They also have a list of accredited suppliers who can make adaptations to your car if you find it hard to operate because of a physical disability.
You might need to get an assessment before getting back on the road, to see if you are fit to drive and/or to get advice on adaptations you might need. For more information, contact Driving Mobility.
Our booklet Driving after brain injury (PDF) provides detailed information on the subject, from the legal requirements and the effect of brain injury on driving, to the process of returning to driving and financial support for those who wish to do so.
You can download it now using the link above or through our information library.