If you suffered a concussion in a car crash (or through any other type of accident), you’re likely anxious to get back to your normal activities – including driving. However, even though you may believe you’re no longer experiencing any post-concussion symptoms, you may need to put off driving a little while longer.
Doctors are provided with guidelines for advising patients who have suffered concussions when they can return to work, school and athletic activities. However, there aren’t similar guidelines for returning to driving.
How a concussion can affect driving
Multiple studies have looked at the reaction times of people who have suffered concussions using driving simulators. They’ve found slowed reaction times when it comes to:
- Stopping at traffic lights or stop signs
- Swerving to avoid pedestrians
- Reacting to changes in traffic
The author of one study said they found that “complicated driving skills, the kind involving split-second reaction times that could mean the difference between life and death, are the ones that may take the longest to regain after you have a concussion — even when all of your symptoms have resolved.”
Can cognition tests help?
So how do you know when it’s safe to drive again? It seems obvious that the advice that some doctors give patients not to drive for 24 hours seriously underestimates the effect of concussions on the brain’s ability to process information.
One 2020 study found slowed reactions times for anywhere from three weeks to more than two months after a concussion. Comparative cognition tests could give doctors and patients an idea of how much reaction times are improving during post-concussion recovery. However, the doctor quoted above noted that “traditional reaction time tests aren’t the best measure of driving responsiveness and readiness.”
It’s crucial not to drive – certainly not alone – for at least as long as you’re told to take a break from work or school – and probably longer. Having someone along who can provide a more impartial opinion on your reaction times is a good idea. If being unable to drive and/or work affects your ability to earn a living, it’s important to consider this as you determine what is a fair settlement after a crash caused by another driver.