Home Health & Wellness Driving with a Medical Condition: How to Stay Safe Behind the Wheel

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

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Getting behind the wheel is something many of us do daily. Whether it’s to take your children to school, work or collect your weekly food shop, driving plays an important role in many people’s lives. However, several health conditions can significantly impact our ability to drive safely and securely.

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).

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

You could also put yourself and fellow motorists and road users at serious risk of incident and injury. You may even face prosecution if an accident happens because of your condition.

With a register of nearly 200 health conditions that could hinder your driving skills, it’s worth discovering 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 staying safe in your vehicle.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy affects the brain, causing bursts of electrical activity – known as seizures – which significantly impact your cerebral activity. Possible symptoms include losing awareness and jerking uncontrollably, becoming stiff, collapsing, and passing out.

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 reenter the driving seat.

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 your medication type, you will likely 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, which must be at least 5mmol/l before you set off.

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

In the event of a hypo, when the blood sugar levels drop too low, you must stop by law.

Heart conditions

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

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

To keep an eye on your heart’s well-being, 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 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 schedule pit stops occasionally, especially if you feel tired and fatigued.

Arthritis

Arthritis, a condition that causes joint pain and inflammation, 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 impacts your ability to drive or 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, you can take a few steps to make your journey more comfortable.

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

Stop and take regular breaks to stretch and loosen up on long journeys. Remember to adjust the steering wheel and driving seat – keeping them at the right height and position will help prevent joint pain and discomfort.

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 give it up altogether.

If you’ve recovered well after a month – but still show side effects that may impact your driving skills – you need to contact the DVLA.

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

However, it may be worth enrolling in a driver rehabilitation programme if you are keen to get back on the road after a stroke. 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 decide whether you feel ready to hit the road again.

If you do, you may consider making 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 several 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, 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 confidently and confidently sit in your driving seat.


Richard Holmes is the director of well-being at Westfield Health.

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