Does a stroke mean your driving days are over?

The effects of a stroke are far-reaching and influence almost every aspect of life, from eating to muscle control to communication -- and, of course, to driving. Because a stroke can cause temporary (and sometimes permanent) weakness or even paralysis to one side of the body, driving can become a treacherous activity.
The long road to recovery
Drivers who've had a stroke may have trouble doing things that once were simple, including turning the wheel, stepping on the brakes or clutch and making split-second decisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In addition to the loss of driving skills, some state laws might prevent drivers from getting back behind the wheel after a stroke. State laws generally require physicians to report patients who have serious medical issues to the department of motor vehicles. California, for example, requires doctors to report any patients who have a disorder that involves loss of consciousness. These patients then must take a driving test -- and possibly have their driving restricted.
Safety tests
Luckily, a stroke doesn't necessarily mean you need to give up all your driving privileges. According to a November 2011 study that appeared in the journal Neurology, a series of tests can help determine how likely a person is to pass an on-road evaluation.
These tests can be administered in a doctor's office and assess things like road-sign recognition and general traffic knowledge. They also measure visual-spatial abilities, attention span and mental speed. Drivers who do not reach a certain score on these in-office tests, the researchers found, were more likely to fail the on-road evaluation.
Getting back behind the wheel
The decision to continue driving is a complex one -- and your return to the road should be gradual. If you cause an accident because you're unable to deal with the challenges of the road, your driving record will suffer -- and your auto insurance premium will rise. These tips will help you resume driving safely after a stroke:
  • Talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help you determine whether you're ready to start driving again by conducting a series of tests.
  • Start slowly. Start by driving small distances to gauge how well you handle the car. You may want to practice in an empty parking lot.
  • Don't drive alone. To start, you'll want to take someone with you until you're completely confident in your ability to drive. Ask that person to honestly evaluate your driving skills.
While many people are able to return to driving following a stroke, some patients may not regain enough motor control to drive safely. If you or a loved one exhibits any of these warning signs after a stroke, it may be time to stop driving, according to the American Stroke Association:
  • Feeling confused or disoriented. Needs instruction from passengers regarding basic driving.
  • Getting lost while driving in familiar areas.
  • Being unable to see or obey road signs.
  • Drifting into other lanes.

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