By Nik Donovic
We’ve all heard the old adage “where you dropped on your head as a child?,” but none of us really think about the long-term and potentially hazardous effects of what a mild-to-severe traumatic head injury could have on your ability to perform everyday tasks like driving. Although there isn’t a black and white, or even dotted line when it comes to the matter, as each injury is different; there are guidelines, warning signs, and some protocols in place to determine and ensure you and those around you are safe.
Crossing the Legal Walk: Making Sure You’re Properly Insured
Some states have laws that require a formal evaluation on traumatic brain injury patients before returning to the road. However, many merely require a valid driver’s license. In that case, a patient should work extensively with a medical professional or even friends and family to access progress in healing. It goes without saying that safety needs to be a number one concern, and part of that means ensuring the patient is insured. There are different insurance regulations in place depending on where you live, but adhering to them could mean the difference between life and death.
Watch for Warning Signs: Is it Time to Put the Permanent Brakes On?
Approximately 40-60 percent of people who have suffered a TBI get back behind the wheel at some point in their life. Many of them also opt to place restrictions on their driving, only allowing themselves to drive during the day or in familiar areas. Sometimes they may be too eager to get behind the wheel, or their self-regulated restrictions may be too lax. If that’s the case, it’s up to those close to them to watch for suspicious behavior. If you have a loved one who has suffered a TBI, it is essential to look out for warning signs that may indicate that they’re a danger on the road. Look out for:
- Drifting too close to barriers or other cars
- Speeding up and slowing down inappropriately
- Displaying a lack of judgement in distance, stopping or turning
- Getting easily lost, even in familiar areas
How To Evaluate When it’s Time to Put the Pedal to the Metal
Many TBI survivors are not properly evaluated before returning to the road, and although there’s no “one size fits all” for determining whether they can, should or much they driving is appropriate; there are some standard litmus tests for those who’ve suffered a TBI and wish to get back behind the wheel. A standard assessment has two parts:
- Preliminary: the first step in determining whether it’s safe to drive is to assess basic cognitive skills. This means they should have the ability to think clearly and concisely: reaction time, basic judgement, motor skills, reasoning and spatial relations. The preliminary phase should also ascertain whether they need special adaptive equipment before returning to the road.
- Real Life Testing: Just like when a teenager is learning to drive, it is crucial for TBI sufferers to have adequate practice time behind the wheel. For this they can use a simulator, if available, or practice in a safe place with a responsible evaluator. The “road test” should gradually work up to many different scenarios until the driver and evaluator are both comfortable and confident that they can get back on the open road.