Driving After A Traumatic Brain Injury

If you or a loved one are among the 2.8 million Americans who sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) this year, you may be wondering if driving is still a safe option. If you were injured in a car accident, which is one of the leading causes of TBI, you may be even more uneasy with getting back behind the wheel.  At the same time, you may be concerned about losing your independence, or even about losing your ability to care for loved ones. Many drivers not only have themselves to think of but dependents as well. Driving can seem less like a convenience and more like a necessity.

As the stress of this weighs on you, keep in mind that for nearly 3 out of 5 people with moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries, it is eventually possible with rehab and adaptive driving devices to get back on the road. For those who can’t, there are still many transportation options out there.


What is a TBI?

Traumatic brain injuries are the result of some sort of force causing damage to the brain. They are often caused by car accidents, sports injuries, acts of violence (including combat), and falls. When these incidents occur, they can either cause direct injury to the head or can make it change direction suddenly, which results in the brain impacting the inside of the skull.

TBIs are split into three levels: Mild, Moderate and Severe. Driving is affected differently depending on the level of the injury. 

How can a Brain Injury affect my ability to drive?

Every TBI is unique. The exact symptoms experienced depend on the severity of the injury, the area of the brain affected, and any other injuries sustained in the same incident. Because traumatic brain injuries are caused by such high energy impacts, it is not uncommon to also have spinal cord injuries, broken bones, damaged internal organs, and other traumas. Full recovery is not always possible, and the victim may face lasting physical, visual, and cognitive deficits that can interfere with normal driving.

With this uniqueness in mind, our driving assessments will help a patient understand their new driving skills and give possible therapies to improve those abilities. 

How a TBI Affects Cognitive Abilities

  1. Clients often experience confusion and disorientation for a period of time which could temporarily render them unsafe to drive.
  2. In a moderate or severe TBI, the victim may have permanent problems with memory, decision making, judgment, communication, planning, problem-solving and impulse control.
  3. It may be difficult to cope with unexpected events, such as construction detours or inclement weather.
  4. Victims of TBI  may be more easily distracted and have a hard time concentrating on the road or sticking to a route.

How a Brain Injury Affects Physical Abilities

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  1. You may experience loss of sense of balance, which may leave you feeling like you are falling over while turning and can lead to overreaction and difficulty steering.
  2. You may also suffer hearing loss and be unable to hear car horns, passing vehicles or police sirens.
  3. You may struggle with muscle coordination and hand-eye coordination. This means that it may be difficult for you to operate the vehicle’s controls or to respond to other vehicles on the road. 

How a TBI Affects Visual Abilities

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Nearly nine out of ten TBI victims experience some sort of visual problems. Often, this can be the biggest cause of driving challenges, but may be forgotten about or misunderstood as a neurological issue.  

  1. Blurry vision, double vision, and difficulty controlling eye movement can all make it difficult to see the road.
  2. Victims may also experience a loss in peripheral vision, which would make it hard to notice vehicles coming up beside them.
  3. The brain may have problems processing visual stimuli and assigning meaning to it, which means that they might have a hard time reading road signs or recognizing potential hazards.

What Next Street Looks For When Assessing

At Next Street, we come to you. In many cases, we meet with you in the comfort of your own home and carry out an assessment of your abilities. All you need to do to prepare is to get a good night’s sleep and eat normal meals so you have the strength and energy to get through the visit, which can take up to two hours. Don’t worry about needing to memorize anything, this isn’t a test of your knowledge, it is an assessment of your motor skills and your cognitive and visual abilities.

We start out by taking the time to get to know you and your unique situation. Then we evaluate your visual, physical, and cognitive abilities. We check your visual acuity, peripheral vision, and your ability to move your eyes about and scan your environment. We check your physical flexibility, strength, and coordination. This includes both muscle coordination and hand-eye coordination. There will also be several exercises we do to evaluate your memory, awareness, judgment, and ability to follow directions. If this all goes well, we will recommend you for a behind-the-wheel evaluation at a later date. The driving assessment will observe you actually behind the wheel and allow us to make real practical recommendations for the future. 


Want to read and learn more?

Check out the Driver Rehab blog to learn more about driving while aging.

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