Driving tests

Can you drive after having a head injury?

A brain injury need not mean the end of driving. Some skills can be regained or relearned, including driving. Getting back on the road again can improve independence for people who have suffered a brain injury.

Driving requires a number of core skills which can be affected by a brain injury, and need to be tested before a driver is allowed back on the road:

  • good front and peripheral (side) vision
  • quick decision-making
  • ability to judge and anticipate situations on the road
  • quick reactions
  • good coordination

If the head injury requires medication it’s important to check that the medication doesn’t affect driving ability.

Because head injuries can cause so many effects, tests have to be done to establish that it’s not affecting driving ability. For example:

  • Vision problems – misjudging distance or speed, or having portions of vision missing on one side
  • Thinking problems – slower thinking and decision-making, sensory overload, concentration loss and short-term memory loss
  • Epilepsy – read our guide on driving with epilepsy.
  • Physical problems – coordination issues, delayed reactions or reflexes, muscle weakness
  • Neurological and related conditions

How do you return to driving after a brain injury?

  1. Consult a doctor and get either written medical clearance or a referral to an occupational therapist
  2. Check with your insurance company that they will cover your vehicle if you drive
  3. Check with your ACC case manager (if relevant) if there is any funding available to help you with the required tests and reports
  4. Get a neurologist’s report or an occupational therapy assessment (whichever are required)
  5. Check that any medications you have to take won’t affect your driving
  6. Avoid driving when circumstances mean you won’t have normal concentration, e.g. any alcohol consumption, when you are tired, etc

If you are not allowed to drive

Not being able to drive can be frustrating and cause issues. There are alternatives to driving if you have had a head injury:

  • Some charity groups provide free or discounted transport
  • ACC may provide a disability allowance to cover travel costs
  • The Head Injury Society might be able to provide Total Mobility Vouchers which give a reduction in taxi fares if you’re unable to use public transport
  • Alternative methods such as Uber or car pooling websites are worth checking out
  • Can some journeys be replaced by walking?
  • Do you have family or friends that can help you?

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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