Should you ask your healthcare provider about driving after a concussion?

Authors: Kelly Sarmiento, MPH; Dana Waltzman, PhD; David W. Wright, MD

Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For most of us, driving is part of our daily lives. While it can feel routine, it is a skill that requires our brain and body to constantly coordinate. We need to listen and watch for danger while using our hands and feet to control the car; ensuring a high level of attention and an ability to react quickly.

So, if we get injured, we may not be able to drive like we used to before the injury. For example, when a person breaks their arm or leg, they will likely be given instructions from their healthcare provider on how and when they can drive safely. But what about if we get an injury to our brain? Will that affect driving? And do healthcare providers talk to patients about this possibility?

Authors of a new study surveyed 1,000 healthcare providers in the United States and asked how often they talk to patients who recently got a concussion (also known as a mild traumatic brain injury) about driving safety after their injury. Only about half (52%) of healthcare providers commonly talked to patients about driving after a concussion.

“Studies show that right after a concussion, during the first 24 hours, people may have a harder time avoiding driving hazards that can put them at risk for a car crash” says Dr. David Wright, emergency physician at Emory School of Medicine and an author on the study. “More studies can help us learn whether there are longer term risks of driving after a concussion. But in the meantime, it is a good idea for healthcare providers to talk to patients about driving safety. That way they can help patients make plans to help them get around in case a patient’s symptoms affect their driving during recovery.”

The study also found that only 40% of healthcare providers regularly check patients with concussion for symptoms that may affect driving, such as blurry vision and slowed reaction time. And, only 37% commonly educate patients with a concussion on how and when they can safely return to driving after their injury.

“Symptoms of a concussion may appear or get worse when a patient returns to school and work. It is important for a patient to ask their healthcare provider about their symptoms and how they might affect their daily routine,” adds Dr. Wright. “I tell my patients to bring a list of questions to ask me about their recovery and to keep in touch about how they are feeling. It is a good idea to add driving to that list so that patients get the information they need.”

Driving safety after a concussion is gaining more attention in the medical community. Medical organizations, such the American Society for Sports Medicine, now recommend healthcare providers talk to patients with a concussion about driving safety. However, guidance for healthcare providers on specific symptoms that affect a patient’s driving safety, as well as checklists to help patients safely return to driving are currently lacking. Creating tools for healthcare providers to help them talk with patients may be helpful as more information on driving after a concussion becomes available.

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