Driving is important to people for many reasons including independence, mobility, employment and quality of life, which in turn can affect your confidence and self-esteem.
If you suffer a brain injury you must not drive and you might have to notify the DVLA, who could remove your licence until you have made sufficient recovery and have undertaken an assessment to confirm that you can resume driving safely.
In this guide we look at the impact of brain injury on driving, when you should notify the DVLA, driving assessments and vehicle adaptations.
The impact of brain injury on your ability to drive
A brain injury can affect your ability to drive in a variety of ways, both physical and cognitive. According to Headway, the brain injury charity, this can include:
- Poor concentration or memory
- Reduced reaction time or inability to think ahead /anticipate situations
- Difficulty interpreting what you see, or perceptual difficulties, such as judging speed or distance
- Poor decision making or impulsive behaviour
- Weakness of limbs
- Problems with movement, balance and coordination
- Loss of hearing
- Issues with vision
- Risk of seizures
Brain injury survivors at the ABIF Northants event we hosted recently talked about symptoms they experienced, including difficulties with spatial awareness and sensitivity to noise (being distracted by music, talking or other noises in the car, both too loud and too quiet). They also spoke about debilitating fatigue, which could be triggered by the dark, sun flickering through trees, low sun, sunshine on a wet road and flashing blue lights.
Notifiable conditions and reporting to the DVLA
You must notify the DVLA if you have (or develop) a ‘notifiable’ medical condition or disability; acquired brain injuries are reportable conditions. Failure to tell the DVLA about a medical condition that affects your driving could result in a fine of up to £1,000 and you could be prosecuted if you have an accident.
If a friend or family member has concerns about your ability to drive, or that you have not contacted the DVLA, they can contact the authorities anonymously. Similarly, your GP (or other medical professional) has a legal duty to report you if they believe you are not fit to drive or have not notified the authorities of your condition.
The DVLA provides specific guidelines on stroke and traumatic brain injury:
- Stroke: you must not drive, but there may be no need to notify the DVLA unless you are still suffering visual field or cognitive defects, or impaired limb function, a month after the episode. If you have made a satisfactory clinical recovery, you can resume driving after a month.
- Traumatic brain injury: you must not drive and you may need to notify the DVLA. Depending on ongoing symptoms, you may be able to resume driving after 6 – 12 months, but you may have to reapply for your licence.
Check the DVLA’s website for a list of notifiable health conditions and guidance on reporting your condition.
Having notified the DVLA, it can take a number of weeks (sometimes more than six) to receive a decision. You will receive a letter explaining whether you can keep your licence, whether it will be withdrawn or if further assessment is required to enable them to reach a final decision. If further information is required, the DVLA may contact your GP and / or consultant, arrange for you to be examined or you may be asked to take a driving assessment at a mobility centre.
There is a network of mobility centres around the UK where your fitness to drive will be evaluated. The assessment is undertaken by an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) and an Occupational Therapists (OT) with the experience and knowledge to assess driver behaviour and analyse the impact of a person’s medical condition on their ability to drive safely.
The assessment process involves:
- Initial consultation and any relevant cognitive exercises.
- Physical assessment to identify any limitations that might affect your ability to drive a standard vehicle, and any potential adaptations.
- Visual assessment to check you can read a number plate at 20 metres as the law requires.
- Driving assessment to evaluate your reaction to standard driving conditions.
At the end of the assessment, the assessors will discuss their findings with you and advise what you should do next. They will also make recommendations where possible to help you with vehicle control or your driving technique. They will follow this up with a written report.
There is a wide variety of adaptations that can be made to a vehicle to enable you to drive more comfortably and safely, including:
- Left foot accelerator pedal – for people who are not able to use the accelerator with their right foot.
- Steering aid – a mechanism to allow the driver to turn the steering wheel using one arm and a grip, rather than two hands.
- Hand controls – these allow you to drive an automatic car without using the foot pedals.
- Remote control devices – allowing people with restricted mobility to operate secondary functions of the car (e.g. wipers, horn and headlights) with one hand.
- Swivel seats – the seats turn, making it easier to get in and out of the car.
If vehicle adaptations are required, you may be able to get these done through the Motability scheme (if you receive a qualifying mobility allowance as part of a Personal Independence Payment or Disability Living Allowance) or through the government’s Access to Work scheme.
For further information about brain injury and on driving after brain injury, visit the Headway website, where you will find a wide range of information and practical support.
If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury and would like to speak lawyer about claiming compensation to assist your recovery and rehabilitation, contact our brain injury specialists for advice. Call 0808 303 1342 today or send us a message.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023