Driving After Stroke: What It Takes to Get Back Behind the Wheel

Driving After Stroke: What It Takes to Get Back Behind the Wheel

If you have recently suffered a stroke, you may be wondering if and when it will be safe for you to drive again.

To help you find the answer to this question, we’ve put together this complete guide to driving after stroke.

We’ll discuss the major challenges of driving after stroke, and some warning signs to watch out for before getting behind the wheel.

We’ll also show you exactly what steps you need to take to help you get back your independence and start driving again.

Who Should Stop Driving After Stroke?

We thought it’d be better to get the bad news out of the way first.

And the bad news is a stroke can seriously impair your driving skills and threaten your own safety and the safety of others.

If you have continued to drive after a stroke, you should stop immediately, especially if you have experienced any of the following warning signs:

  • Driving too far above or below the speed limit
  • Needing instructions from passengers
  • Making poor distance decisions
  • Easily frustrated or confused
  • Getting lost in familiar areas
  • Drifting unintentionally across lanes

We understand how eager you probably are to start driving again and hold on to your independence.

However, for your own safety and that of others, it’s important to wait until it’s clear that your stroke is no longer seriously affecting your driving abilities. You can do that by consulting your doctor or a certified driver rehabilitation specialist.

When Can I Start Driving After Stroke?

how long until you can drive again after a stroke

Many guidelines for driving after stroke recommend waiting at least one month before trying to drive again after a stroke. This lets you give your brain enough time to heal.

For those who have suffered a massive stroke, the wait will most likely be longer.

After you have waited the recommended time, you should consult your doctor, who will assess your driving fitness.

Your doctor will look for various physical or visual problems that you might still have after your stroke which can impair your driving skills. We’ll take look at these possible difficulties in the section below.

Overcoming the Challenges to Driving After Stroke

There are five major challenges that your doctor will consider before giving you the OK to get behind the wheel after your stroke.

1. Motor Impairments

warning signs for driving after stroke

Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body is one of the most common stroke side effects.

Having diminished movement in your hands, arms, core, or legs will impair your ability to drive safely.

Other physical effects which can make it unsafe to drive include pain, sensory problems and dizziness.

A solid stroke exercise regimen can help you regain muscle movement and strength and let you get back on the road sooner.

2. Vision Problems

doctor examining eyes for road safety after stroke

About two-thirds of stroke survivors suffer from some sort of vision problem after stroke.

Visual acuity is important for safe driving, so treating visual problems after stroke is a must.

Some of the various vision problems you might experience after stroke include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Problems with depth perception
  • Loss of central vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision

Luckily, eye exercises after stroke can often help improve vision.

3. Fatigue

driving while tired is dangerous especially after stroke

Another common side effect of stroke that could impair your driving abilities is fatigue.

Post-stroke fatigue can make it difficult to stay focused on the road and make quick judgments. It may even cause you to fall asleep at the wheel.

That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure your fatigue is under control before you start driving again.

Surprisingly, doing gentle exercise every day can help improve fatigue after stroke.

4. Cognitive Effects

brain skills for driving after stroke

Driving a car not only requires physical strength and endurance, it also takes lots of mental agility.

Unfortunately, sometimes a stroke affects a patient’s cognitive skills, and impairs their ability to:

  • concentrate on multiple things at once
  • solve problems
  • exercise good judgment
  • make quick decisions and react appropriately

All of these cognitive skills are essential for driving safely after stroke, so patients must work to strengthen their cognitive abilities.

The good news is, by practicing cognitive training activities after stroke, you can improve your thinking skills and get closer to driving again after stroke.

5. Epilepsy

can you drive with epilepsy after stroke

About 5-10% of stroke patients will experience a seizure after stroke. Some will go on to experience multiple seizures and develop post-stroke epilepsy.

If you only experience one seizure after stroke, you might be able to drive, as long as you have no other impairments. But if you have epilepsy, it will be more difficult to get a driver’s license approved.

Still, even if you have epilepsy, you might still be able to drive again if your seizures are controlled by medication.

How to Drive Again After Stroke

If you have any of the above impairments that affect your ability to drive, then your doctor is required to report you to the DMV for your safety and the safety of others.

Luckily, you can reinstate your license through a reexamination with the DMV.

These reexaminations are in-person and may require both a written and behind-the-wheel test depending on what state you live in.

Every state has different requirements for reinstating your license after stroke, so check with your local DMV for more information.

Checklist for Driving Again After Stroke

how to drive again after stroke

The process of getting your license back after stroke can feel overwhelming, so take it one step at a time.

Here’s a checklist to help guide you through the process:

  1. Consult with your occupational therapist to discuss if you need a driving reexamination
  2. If so, then consider working with a certified driver rehabilitation specialist
  3. Work on improving your stroke side effects until you feel confident to drive safely again (i.e. arm movement, multitasking, decision making)
  4. Contact your local DMV and ask what their requirements are for reinstating your license after stroke.
  5. Schedule any necessary tests with the DMV

Step 3 will take the longest, but for safety’s sake it will be worth it.

Some stroke survivors get their licenses back after their first try, while others must take the test several times before passing. Unfortunately, some stroke survivors don’t get their license back at all.

Your chances of success are higher if your stroke side effects were minor. But even if you had a major stroke, if you work extra hard to improve severe impairments, you will have a much greater likelihood of passing.

Adapting Your Car for Driving After Stroke

how to drive if you're in a wheelchair after stroke

Even if you have physical impairments that you just can’t seem to get rid of, that doesn’t mean you will never drive again!

In fact, it’s possible to adapt your car in ways that will allow you to drive after stroke.

There are a variety of tools available that can help make driving easier by adapting your car to your impairments.

These adaptations can be very useful compensation techniques.

Some examples of car adaptations are:

  • Spinner wheels, which attach to your steering wheel for one-handed steering
  • Left-foot accelerators, for those with right side impairments
  • Swivel seats, that help you get in and out of the car

There many more ways to adapt your car for driving after stroke. If you’re interested, talk to your occupational therapist about car adaptations that are right for you.

Driving After Stroke: It IS Possible

For many people, driving again after stroke represents the ultimate goal of recovery. Being able to go where you want, when you want, is a piece of independence that nobody wishes to lose if they can help it.

We hope this article has shown you that, with the right rehabilitation and preparation, driving again after stroke IS possible.

We strongly encourage you to consult with your occupational therapist who has plenty of experience helping other stroke survivors get back behind the wheel.

Passing the test will require hard work, but we know you’re up for the task!