How Can a Traumatic Brain Injury Affect Driving Ability?

Categories: Brain Injury

Nurse bandaging the head of a patient after a serious accident.

People attempting to live with a traumatic brain injury often find that returning to “life as normal” is challenging. Depending on the severity of the injury, this challenge can be mild, moderate, or extreme. But if a patient is or becomes able to complete basic daily personal tasks, the next question most of them want to answer is, Can you drive after a traumatic brain injury?

Return to Independence

A great deal of our personal independence is a direct result of our ability to drive. To be independent, one must be able to get themself from point A to point B without imposing a burden on others. And to do this, you really only have two choices: drive yourself or take public transportation. Unfortunately, many people either don’t like public transit or have little access to it. Public transit can be terribly inconvenient and turn even minor errands into day-long events. Taxis and Uber or Lyft rides can be too costly to rely on regularly. So the only real option can be regaining the ability to drive.

But for many people, driving is the most dangerous thing they do every day. Today, we set out to answer the question, Can someone with a brain injury drive?

Washington State Law

The Revised Code of Washington Section 46.20.041 addresses the legality of these issues, so it’s a good place to start. This law details how any disabled person can attempt to obtain or restore driving privileges. Essentially, if the department of motor vehicles has reason to believe that an individual’s ability to drive may be impeded by an illness or disability, they must conduct an evaluation of that person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle before allowing them on the roadways. This evaluation can consist of a road test or observation of the individual’s driving ability. Or the individual may need to provide a signed statement from a professional declaring them competent to drive. This professional is usually a doctor, but the department may designate other “proper authorities” to perform this function if appropriate.

Can a Doctor’s Statement Be Used Against Me?

If you suffered a TBI and the department of motor vehicles requests a doctor’s statement to grant driving privileges, you may wonder if that statement becomes a public record. After all, you are giving a signed doctor’s statement that divulges private health matters to a governmental agency. So it is natural to wonder if the disclosure of this information could hurt you in the future. The statute addresses this issue by stating that:

  • The purpose of the statement is for confidential use by appropriate public officials only; and
  • No one can offer this statement into evidence for any legal purpose other than:
    • defending the decision to cancel or hold back the person’s driving privileges if appealed; or
    • In any administrative proceeding regarding disability benefits.

So it is important to note that if you receive disability due to your TBI, any medical statement you provide to get your license back may end up revealed in a disability hearing. It may or may not negatively impact your benefits, but be aware that disclosure for such purposes is possible.

Medical Considerations

When you drive, a complex interaction of cognitive and motor functions takes place. Any brain injury can interfere with these functions. Therefore, authorities must evaluate and observe the following functions before making a responsible decision about a person’s ability to drive:

  • How good is the person’s vision?
  • How good is their eye-hand coordination?
  • Is their reaction time fast enough?
  • Are they able to make good judgment calls while driving?
  • Can they recall directions?
  • Do they remember familiar roads and routes?
  • Can they concentrate for extended periods?
  • Are they able to stay within their lane?
  • Can they recall the rules of the road?
  • Can they properly and quickly respond to traffic signals and other stimuli encountered while driving?
  • Are their problem-solving skills up to par?

The University of Washington’s Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center’s report states that 40-60% of those with moderate to severe TBIs return to driving after their accident. So don’t lose hope, and get evaluated as soon as you feel you are ready. And in the meantime, friends and family can help by keeping an eye out for the criteria mentioned above. Together, you can work to improve any observed weaknesses.

Compensating for Limitations

When the department issues a driver’s license to a disabled individual, they decide whether restrictions are appropriate. Possible restrictions include, but are not limited to:

  • Requiring the driver to use special mechanical devices;
  • Limiting the types of motor vehicles a person may operate;
  • Requiring the person to wear corrective lenses when driving; or
  • Any other restriction the department deems necessary to ensure the safety of the driver and others.

They can issue a special license or simply add restrictions to the person’s regular license. Furthermore, TBI victims typically will impose their own restrictions on their driving habits. For instance, you may decide that you are safer if you only drive during the day. Or you may decide you should limit how far you drive outside of your immediate area. The possibilities are endless, and if you are not sure of your limitations, you can ask a trusted friend or family member to help you make these decisions.

We Are Here for You

The caring and compassionate attorneys at Brett McCandlis Brown & Connor, PLLC, have helped innumerable TBI victims reclaim as much of their lives as possible over the years. Our lawyers know what you are going through, and we want to help. The first step in recovering what you’ve lost is speaking with a knowledgeable personal injury legal practitioner who can help you decide if you have a case against the person who caused your injuries. Financial compensation may not remove all of the effects of a TBI, but it can certainly help you get the treatment and assistance you need to move forward in life. So don’t delay. Give us a call for a free consultation, or contact us online today.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.