Some head injuries cause long-lasting or permanent effects on the person, while others only cause temporary effects whereby the person can gradually resume doing all (or most) of the things they could do before they had the injury.
Driving is a complex task. It requires fairly high levels of cognitive and physical skills. There are obvious dangers if the injured person’s judgement, spatial awareness, visual acuity or motor skills are affected, or if seizures are likely.
When a person is evaluated as to whether they can drive after a head injury, many factors will be taken into account such as:
- the amount of driving
- the time of day
- how long each driving period lasts for
- the type of vehicle (e.g. commercial, size and load)
- whether any fatigue exists
- the driving environment (e.g. is it a stressful environment such as rush hour traffic)
The answers to these questions will be used to build a risk profile which will help determine the likelihood of an accident occurring, and how severe that accident might be.
Patients can be managed back into tasks by taking a holistic view. For example, if a patient reports too much fatigue after driving, but it’s necessary to drive, other aspects of their daily routine can be managed to reduce fatigue in those areas.
For commercial drivers, the following will be assessed:
- Rosters, shifts, driving training, contractual demands and other business requirements
- Log books, licencing procedures and other legal requirements
- Load size, distribution and stability
- Duty of care to passengers
- Risks through carrying dangerous goods
- Vehicle operation
- Driving times
From the Guidelines for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Following Closed Head Injury, by the Motor Accidents Authority:
A person who sustains a minor head injury should not drive for at least 24 hours and may require medical assessment.
An extension of the recommended 24 hour time period is advised if there are symptoms or complications that result in a loss of good judgement, decreased intellectual capacity (including slowed thinking), post traumatic seizures, visual impairment or loss of motor skills. If there are complications, a medical assessment is required before an individual can resume driving.
In the first four weeks after injury do not drive until you can concentrate properly.
In New South Wales, the driver is responsible for reporting any condition to Roads and Maritime that’s likely to affect their ability to drive safely in the long term. Not doing so may invalidate the driver’s insurance and could mean prosecution in the event of a vehicle accident.
If you see a doctor, they will advise you to report your condition to R&M if it’s necessary. You can notify them using the Medical Report form, or by a letter from your doctor.
If you are worried about someone else’s driving you can use this form to report your concerns.
How do you find a Driver Trained Occupational Therapist?
For some injuries you may need to be assessed by a driver trained occupational therapist – Roads and Maritime will let you know. To find one, this list is updated reasonably regularly and has a list of the majority of them in NSW.
If you pass then it means your medical condition doesn’t affect your ability to drive according to Roads and Maritime standards, and you can return to driving.
If you fail then it means it’s not possible at that time for you to return to driving.