When someone suffers a concussion, whether in a fall, car collision, sports injury or another event, doctors typically give them a timeline for when they can return to work, school and athletic activities. It’s often a week or longer, depending on the severity of the concussion and their symptoms.
Medical guidance on returning to driving, however, can be more vague. Sometimes, people are told to just wait 24 to 48 hours before getting behind the wheel. That’s in part because there’s been comparatively little research into the effects of a concussion on driving.
Research that has been done, however, suggests that even after a person is no longer experiencing noticeable concussion symptoms, they still have delayed reaction times and impaired decision-making skills.
What one study found
One small study of college students compared a group who had suffered concussions and reported no continued symptoms with a group who hadn’t suffered concussions. All had a similar amount of driving experience.
When placed on a driving simulator, the concussion patients had slower reactions to traffic lights, children running into the street and other events that required an immediate response.
One doctor involved in the study noted 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….”
Other studies have also shown a slowed response time. One 2020 study found that people with concussions can have delayed reaction time for up to two months following their injury.
Medical facilities typically can’t do driving simulator tests. However, some can test patients’ reaction times to help determine whether they’re still suffering some impairment.
Don’t drive alone until you’re ready
A good rule of thumb is not to assume that just because you feel like your reaction and decision-making times are back to normal, that doesn’t mean they are. It’s best not to drive without another licensed driver beside you for a while. It’s easier for someone else to assess these things.
If your life will be impacted by not being able to drive for a time (maybe by relying on rideshare apps or public transportation), it’s important to consider that along with all of the other damages you’re seeking from the party at fault for your injury. With legal guidance, you can help ensure you get the compensation you deserve.