Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

Driving with a Medical Condition: How to Stay Safe Behind the Wheel

Getting behind the wheel is something many of us do on a daily basis. Whether it’s to take your children to school, go to work or collect your weekly food shop, driving plays an important role in many people’s lives. However, there are several health conditions that can have a significant impact on our ability to drive in a safe and secure manner.

If you suffer from a specific condition, it’s always wise to check if you need to declare it to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

In fact, if you don’t inform the DVLA of a medical condition that could affect your ability to drive, you could be fined up to £1,000.

Not to mention that you could put yourself, as well as fellow motorists and road users, at serious risk of incident and injury. Should an accident happen because of your condition, you may even face prosecution.

With a register of nearly 200 health conditions that could hinder your driving skills, it’s worth finding out if yours appears on the DVLA list. In the meantime, here are a few common medical conditions that may affect your driving, while offering tips on how to stay safe in your vehicle.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy affects the brain, causing bursts of electrical activity – known as seizures – which have a significant impact on your cerebral activity. Possible symptoms include loss of awareness and jerking uncontrollably to becoming stiff, collapsing and passing out.

It goes without saying that sudden seizures can be incredibly dangerous if they occur while you’re at the wheel, especially if they result in blackouts.

If you have epilepsy or have suffered from a one-off seizure, you must let the DVLA know. In fact, you will need to surrender your licence and will usually have to be seizure-free for at least 12 months before you can get in the driving seat again.

That said, if seizures only happen in your sleep (whether at night or during a daytime snooze) or don’t influence your consciousness, you may still be allowed to drive.

But whether you feel safe and happy to do so is completely up to you.

Diabetes

In the UK alone, more than 4.9 million people have diabetes. When it comes to driving, motorists living with diabetes shouldn’t be massively affected. Nevertheless, depending on the type of medication you’re on, you’re likely to have to inform the DVLA of your condition.

What’s more, some of the complications of diabetes, including problems with your retina and nerve damage, can make it more challenging for you to stay in control of your vehicle.

According to Diabetes UK, you should always check your blood-sugar levels, as they need to be at least 5mmol/l before you set off.

Also, don’t forget to bring your treatments, as well as meals and snacks.

In the event of a hypo, which is when the blood-sugar levels drop too low, you’re required to stop by law.

Heart conditions

Generally speaking, people living with a heart or circulatory conditions are still allowed to drive, and it’s rare for them to be banned. That said, based on your treatment and on how serious your heart problem is, the DVLA may ask you stop driving for a little while.

This is often the case if your heart or circulatory condition currently causes you to feel dizzy, faint or even black out.

To keep an eye on your heart’s wellbeing, you can book a heart disease screening, the cost of which you can claim back from some health cash plans if you are worried about a potential issue, or if you have a family history of heart disease.

As long as you don’t experience symptoms that distract you from the road and affect your ability to drive comfortably, you should be able to drive safely. Just make sure to schedule pit stops from time to time, especially if you start to feel tired and fatigued.

Arthritis

Arthritis, a condition that causes pain and inflammation in your joints, affects about 10 million people in the UK. It commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine – all of which you use while driving.

So, if your arthritis is having an impact on your ability to drive, or it requires you to use special controls, you need to tell the DVLA. This is especially the case if the condition has lasted over three months.

While arthritis shouldn’t prevent you from being in control of a vehicle, there are a few steps you can take to make your journey more comfortable.

For example, you may want to pad your steering wheel with some sort of cover, such as foam tape, add a neck support to the headrest or build in mirror extensions to provide you with a better, wider view of the traffic behind you.

On long journeys, make sure to stop and take regular breaks to stretch and loosen up. Remember also to adjust both the steering wheel and driving seat – keeping them at the right height and position will help prevent pain and discomfort in your joints.

Stroke

If you’ve had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), by law you’re not allowed to drive for at least one month after. That said, depending on the after-effects, you may have to put driving on hold for longer, or may have to give it up altogether.

If you’ve made a good recovery after a month – but still show side effects that may have an impact on your driving skills – you need to get in touch with the DVLA.

In fact, a stroke can affect your driving in many different ways, as it may leave with you vision problems, pain and weakness in your limbs and difficulty with awareness, judgment and concentration.

However, if you are keen to get back on the road after a stroke, it may be worth enrolling in a driver rehabilitation programme. This way, as well as evaluating your physical and mental fitness, you’ll have the chance to reassess your driving abilities. Based on the results, you can then decide whether you feel ready to hit the road again.

If you do, you may want to consider making some useful modifications to your car. These could be anything from automated cruise control, driver fatigue warning systems and night vision equipment.

Medical conditions can have a number of limiting consequences on our routines and day-to-day tasks. Among many other activities, our fitness and ability to drive can be affected too.

Whatever your ailment, from epilepsy or diabetes to arthritis and heart problems, make sure to inform the DVLA to ensure you comply with regulations, ensuring that you, your passengers and any other road users are safe. With a few simple steps, you can sit in your driving seat with confidence and peace of mind.

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving

https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving/find-condition-a-to-z

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epilepsy/

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/what-is-epilepsy

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/living/driving/driving-rules-for-epilepsy

https://www.diabetes.co.uk/how-to/treat-a-hypo.html

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/position-statements-reports/statistics

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/life-with-diabetes/driving

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/practical-support/driving

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/wellbeing/driving-and-heart-problems

https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/conditions/arthritis

https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/driving/

https://inews.co.uk/essentials/lifestyle/cars/notifiable-medical-conditions-driving-fine-143279

https://www.stroke.org.uk/life-after-stroke/driving

https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-drive-after-a-stroke#making-driving-easier