If you have an epileptic seizure you must stop driving immediately and notify Roads and Maritime – this is a legal requirement. A seizure means you will have a sudden loss of the ability to control a vehicle, and the risk of you having an accident due to epilepsy is put at somewhere between 0.03 and 0.3%, with drivers with epilepsy involved in crashes at about 1.8 times the normal frequency, and up to seven times normal frequency for males under 25 years old.
You seizure must be diagnosed by a specialist to determine its type – this is important as it affects how long it will take for you to get your licence back. You may be prescribed medication and if the doctor does not believe you are complying with your medication they are authorised to pass this information to the driver licensing authority who may then suspend your licence or issue one with restrictions based on periodic drug level monitoring.
Types of seizures
A seizure is where neurons in the brain suffer an abnormal pattern and fire at a faster rate, all at once. It can cause loss of control, loss of consciousness, convulsions and or muscle spasms. They can last a few seconds or up to three minutes.
These seizures can include sensory, visual, psychic, autonomic, olfactory or motor phenomena. It can cause confusion and inability to respond to questions or directions.
These involve a loss of consciousness and typically happen without warning. A description of each of the six types of generalised seizures can be found here.
A non-epileptic seizure (NES) has a different cause than an epileptic seizure, such as low blood sugar, heart problems or psychological disorders. They include organic NES such as fainting which might be caused by a physical problem in the heart, and psychogenic NES which might be caused by your reaction to a difficult memory or situation (panic attacks, dissociative seizures and factitious seizures).
When can you get your licence back?
Your fitness to drive is determined with reference to medical standards.
Some exceptions may be considered for first seizures, sleep-only seizures and childhood seizures. Or, if an epilepsy specialist supports your application, some allowances may be considered.
You must be able to demonstrate that you are at no risk of seizures and that they are controlled by any prescribed medication.
If you have a car or motorbike and only drive it for private use you will be able to get your licence back after you have been seizure-free for at least 12 months. Your licence will have a condition that you have to have regular medical reviews with your doctor or specialist.
If you drive commercially (truck, bus, taxi, hire car, etc), you will need to be seizure-free for 10 years. You will then be issued a licence with the aforementioned conditions.
Your medical practitioner will advise you to avoid all alcohol and drugs as these increase your chance of a seizure, and that you should ensure adequate sleep.
Can you drive any other types of vehicle before you get your licence back?
You can drive vehicles that are not taken on the road and are restricted to private property only, including farm machinery and forklift trucks. However, you should be aware of the risks when operating these types of vehicles – if you have a seizure at a critical moment, what could the consequences be?