09 Jun Driving After a Concussion
Driving is a very complex task that requires precise coordination of cognitive, motor and visual abilities, all the while adapting to the surrounding environment. In order to ensure safety for everyone on the road, drivers need to be alert, and not have their cognitive functions altered in any way. This is why driving under the influence is so dangerous.
Attention, memory, problem solving, and reaction times are all affected while under the influence of alcohol. However, alcohol is not the only thing that can affect these essential cognitive functions and impair one’s driving. In fact, studies have shown that following a concussion, many of these same brain functions are altered, and remain that way even after symptoms have disappeared!
Is driving after a concussion like driving under the influence?
Yes, comparing driving following a concussion and driving under the influence can seem a bit extreme. However, a study recently conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia demonstrates that there are indeed similarities between the 2. According to this study, following a concussion, even after symptoms have fully resolved, certain individuals still have driving abilities that resemble those of someone under the influence of alcohol. These individuals still have problems controlling their vehicle, especially in curves. The researchers also compare their results to those of individuals with neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, a second study has shown that individuals having sustained a concussion also have a harder time identifying hazards on the road.
How long after a concussion is it safe to get back behind the wheel?
This will depend on many factors.
Concussions affect everyone differently. Because of this, each situation must be evaluated individually taking into account different factors including:
- Cognitive functions affected by the concussion
- Reported symptoms
- Time since injury
- The individual’s progress in relation to the return to his or her normal daily activities and routine
There exists return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols for athletes and for students but there is no such thing to help guide the return to driving. Currently, a healthcare professional’s clinical judgement and a neuropsychological evaluation are the only tools available to determine if someone is ready to return to driving without any restrictions, such as avoiding night driving. Despite the lack of knowledge on this aspect, we cannot ignore the effects of concussions on driving. Future studies must be completed in order to establish more precise guidelines and ensure a safe return to driving after a concussion.
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