Many people worry about their ability to continue driving after receiving an epilepsy diagnosis. After all, understanding whether you should (or can) drive with epilepsy can be a confusing, frustrating task. Many MyEpilepsyTeam members have discussed the difficulties of driving (or not driving) with epilepsy: “I feel like I’m stuck in a traffic light,” wrote one member. “Can’t move forward because of epilepsy.”
There are many different factors to consider when it comes to driving with your diagnosis, including your neurologist’s medical advice and local laws regarding driving with epilepsy. However, it’s important to understand how epilepsy might affect your driving skills before you and your doctor decide if you should continue driving. Make sure to continually evaluate whether driving is safe for you, as well as what alternatives might be available.
Several aspects of epilepsy can affect a person’s ability to drive:
Epilepsy is considered a movement disorder because it can cause a person to perform involuntary (unintended) physical movements or actions. Seizures that cause involuntary muscle movements are called motor seizures. During a motor seizure, a person’s muscles may stiffen or weaken, causing their body or limbs to jerk. These movements can be dangerous while operating a vehicle.
Although temporary, a person can experience vision changes — like hallucinations or partial loss of vision — during a seizure. This is common in occipital seizures (seizures that affect the occipital lobe of the brain), such as focal sensory visual seizures.
Absence seizures, formerly known as petit mal seizures, cause people to stare unresponsively for a few moments. Researchers have noted that the degree to which a person loses consciousness during seizures can vary. Some individuals may have only a brief lapse in consciousness. Others may be completely unresponsive and have no recollection of the event after a seizure.
Losing consciousness while driving is incredibly dangerous. As one member shared, it put her and her loved ones at risk: “A month ago, I was in a near-death auto accident. The reason — a seizure. Please be precautionary while driving. I felt fine, and all of a sudden, I blacked out in a seizure … putting my grandchild, sister, and brother-in-law in danger of death.”
For some people living with epilepsy, seizures can happen at any time. For others, seizures may only happen while they sleep (nocturnal seizures), or they may have symptoms like auras — feelings or sensations that warn of impending seizures.
Although unexpected seizures can be more difficult to respond to, members have shared that auras have helped them avoid potentially dangerous situations while driving: “I drive,” wrote one member. “I have auras. Before I have a seizure, I know when to get off the road.” Another member shared that they take a similar approach: “I get a really strong aura before having a seizure, so I’ll pull off the road before one occurs.”
Driving with epilepsy — a chronic and often unpredictable condition — increases the risk of accidents. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, people with epilepsy have an estimated 1.13 to 2.16 times higher accident rate than those without epilepsy. However, it was also noted that those who experience seizures with visual impairments or physical impairments and those who become unconscious during seizures are at a higher risk than those who do not.
An epileptic seizure while driving risks not only the driver and passengers daily but also anyone else in their vicinity — on the road and off. For this reason, state legislatures have implemented driving regulations to help ensure the safety of drivers with medical conditions like epilepsy.
In the United States, people with epilepsy are allowed to drive, although the driving restrictions can vary between states. In most cases, a person with epilepsy must go without seizures that affect their consciousness for a set period of time before being legally allowed to drive. This seizure-free period must be at least one year in many states and less in others, while some states have no such requirement. In states with this stipulation, some allow for exceptions based on individual situations.
More often than not, the physician caring for your epilepsy must fill out a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form verifying the date of your last seizure, the type of seizure you had, and any other relevant information. In some states, physicians are subject to mandatory reporting of seizure disorders to the DMV, and filling out this form is the standard operating procedure.
In some cases, physicians are allowed to provide a recommendation based on a person’s history of epilepsy. In states with no mandated seizure-free period, this recommendation plays a bigger role in the decision on whether or not they are allowed to drive.
To find out the exact laws governing epilepsy and driving in your state, go to your state’s DMV website. Another resource for this information is the Epilepsy Foundation, which has a searchable state driving laws database.
If antiepileptic drugs fully control your seizures, you’re more likely to retain your driving privileges. As one hopeful member of MyEpilepsyTeam wrote, “Got some good news from my epileptologist about my EEG ... and a med increase, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be driving again soon!”
Conversely, some epilepsy medications can affect your ability to drive. With possible side effects that may impair driving ability (like drowsiness), it’s important to discuss all facets of your medications and seizure risk with your neurologist when deciding whether or not to drive.
A change in medications can affect your ability to drive. Wait and see how starting new medications or adjusting your dosage will affect you before getting behind the wheel.
If you have epilepsy and experience a seizure that results in a vehicle accident, you could be held criminally or civilly liable if a court finds that you drove without a valid license or against the advice of your physician. Withholding medical information regarding your seizure disorder from the DMV or your insurance company is equally as problematic. To avoid risking liability and to ensure your safety and the safety of others, learn the laws in your state and follow your neurologist’s advice.
MyEpilepsyTeam members frequently discuss the triumphs, challenges, and frustrations of driving abilities with epilepsy. “I know how it is not to drive,” wrote one. “I haven’t driven in two and a half years! I hate it. I don’t think I’ll be able to drive again, just to be safe.”
Some members share that they have made the conscious decision not to drive with their diagnosis. “This is why I don’t drive,” a member responded to another who had been in a car accident. “I have my license back, but you never know. Praise God you all survived. But having seizures, we lose our independence in a way — not being able to drive.” Another member wrote, “I have been in three different accidents that were caused by seizures, so I have pretty much given up on driving.”
Many members have acknowledged that despite the difficulties of deciding not to drive, they know they are making the safe decision: “It’s not fun or easy not having the independence to drive myself places, and I struggle with it on a daily basis, but I have figured out that keeping myself and others out of danger is more important than being able to drive.”
Other members have shared their frustrations with attempting to get their driving privileges reinstated. “I have had so many stops and starts,” shared one member. “Each time, it’s been different. Now, my neurologist Googles it because he can’t keep up with the changes. You are very right — it’s us who should take responsibility. In the early days, I was stubborn and didn’t like that my last major part of independence was taken. Over the years, I have had a lot of accidents, most before a tumor was found, and, in hindsight, I was having seizures. The way I’m going now, I doubt I’ll be able to legally drive in the near future, if at all.”
Some members have shared that they choose to look on the positive side when it comes to giving up driving: “I look at it from an economic standpoint,” wrote one. “It was hard giving up my license after 50 years. But we (my wife and I) drive a nice car instead of two clunkers. We pay less on insurance, and I get chauffeured everywhere … you have to look at the bright side when you have epilepsy, or you’ll be down all the time.”
MyEpilepsyTeam members often talk about how they get around without driving. Many say they now rely on public transportation, like one member who wrote, “Sure, if I could drive, it might make things easier, but I suppose I’ve just got to be an expert on buses!” Another admitted, “I’m used to not driving now, and the way traffic is in London now, I’m grateful I don’t have to some days. Public transport isn’t that bad, and sometimes I use a cab.”
Other members say they use ride-sharing apps or ask other people for a lift when needed. “I have family and friends that usually will take me places when I need to go somewhere,” wrote one, “but when they can’t, I have taken Uber or Lyft, which has helped me to try and prove to my family that I can do some things for myself.”
Living with epilepsy can be challenging, but you don’t have to go through it alone. MyEpilepsyTeam is the social network for people with epilepsy. On MyEpilepsyTeam, more than 108,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with epilepsy.
How has epilepsy affected the way you drive or get around? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below, or by posting on MyEpilepsyTeam.