Driving After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

While daily commuters may dread getting in their cars and battling traffic, for many, driving represents freedom and independence. Unfortunately, however, after any significant injury, including traumatic brain injury, driving may be out of the question until patients recover substantially.

TBI Complications that Limit Driving

The main reason that patients will be unable to drive after their traumatic brain injury is that they are suffering from physical disabilities, mental impairment or both. Although many technologies help the physically disabled drive, to date, no aide exists for overcoming mental impairments to enable driving.

This is primarily due to the fact that mental complications of traumatic brain injury can include the inability to focus, loss of short-term memory and vision problems, all of which critically limit a person's ability to drive. Because surgery and/or medication can only improve these TBI complications to a limited degree, those suffering permanent mental complications from traumatic brain injury may never be able to drive again.

Who Can Drive After TBI

Despite the fact that many are never able to drive after traumatic brain injury, plenty of other TBI patients don't suffer severely disabling complications or recover sufficiently, giving them the capacity to eventually drive.

Some of the factors that affect the likelihood that a TBI patient will eventually be able to drive include:

• the patient's age (Younger patients are more likely to recover than older TBI patients.)
• the patient's outlook on and effort in recovery
• the patient's support team, including his doctors, therapists, family and friends (Those with a stronger, more reliable support team will make great strides during recovery.)
• the severity of the primary injury and the resulting complications
• whether or not the patient had driving experience before the injury that caused brain damage (Those with prior experience driving will have an easier time re-learning the experience.)

Tests to Evaluate Driving Skills

Any combination of the following can be used to determine whether a TBI patient is ready and able to drive safely:

• instructor-accompanied driving tests (After passing "closed-course" tests, TBI patients can experiment with on-the-road driving in remote areas.)
• neuropsychological tests (These test "higher" level brain functioning, including attention span, awareness, etc.)
• physical exams (These test coordination, balance and mobility.)
• simulated driving practice and tests
• vision tests

Using the above diagnostic tools, medical professionals can determine a patient's capacity for passing DMV tests, as well as whether a TBI patient will be able to drive safely.

In general, a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) will evaluate whether or not traumatic brain injury patients (and others with significant mental disability) can drive. While in most cases, patients' occupational therapists will also be CDRSs, anyone can find a local certified driver rehabilitation specialist through the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED).