How can a stroke affect my driving skills?

A stroke occurs when the brain’s blood supply becomes disrupted. In most cases, this is due to the arteries in the brain becoming blocked, but can also occur when there is bleeding in the tissue of the brain. A stroke is a serious and life-threatening condition, and recovery from stroke varies between individuals. Even in instances where a person recovers well after a stroke, their driving skills may be impacted as driving is a complicated activity that requires coordination between one’s physical, cognitive and visual aptitude.

A stroke may affect your driving in the following ways:

– Visual acuity problems
– Changes or deficits to parts of your body (e.g. loss of movement in a limb)
– Changes in sensory processing
– Concentration, attention and memory deficits
– Problems in spatial awareness, including judging distances
– Impairment in comprehending road rules
– Problem-solving difficulties
– Becoming more easily fatigued, anxious or overwhelmed
– Reduced reaction time
– Heightened risk of having seizures

person driving car

What happens regarding driving after a stroke?

Primarily, it is the licence holder’s responsibility to inform the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) of any medical condition or diagnosis that may alter your ability to drive safely. Your doctor will also advise you not to drive after a stroke, usually for at least four weeks. Usually, people who have suffered a stroke will need to have an occupational therapy (OT) driving assessment to determine their fitness to drive. This is to ensure that the person is a competent and safe driver, and if there are any difficulties observed, the OT can help the person to return to driving.

What does the occupational therapy (OT) driving assessment involve?

An occupational therapist (OT) is a university-trained allied health professional that assists people to enhance their independence and perform activities that are essential or important to their everyday lives. OT is a very broad area and OTs can help people in all aspects of their lives from basic self-care tasks and activities of daily living, to help with employment and driving. The OT driving assessment can be divided into two areas, and overall the OT will make a judgement about a person’s fitness to drive following a stroke.

stroke older driver

The two sections of the assessment are:

– The off-road part where the OT assesses the person’s physical, visual and cognitive conditions by performing standardised tests. These specific tests aim to identify if there are any observable deficits in the driver’s physical, visual or cognitive skills.

– The on-road assessment involves the person driving with the OT and rehabilitation driving instructor, in the instructor’s vehicle. The person drives for 1 hour and the OT observes how the stroke may be influencing the person’s driving skill (if at all).
After the assessment, the OT will go through the outcome with you. The following are the main possible outcomes:

1. The stroke is not affecting your driving performance and the OT will recommend that you can resume driving as normal.

2. The stroke is affecting your driving capacity and you can no longer drive safely. The OT does not feel that your condition will improve and cannot be helped by further lessons or modifications to your vehicle. This usually occurs if your cognitive capacity has been affected by the stroke. The OT will recommend to the RMS that your licence is cancelled.

3. The stroke has affected your driving abilities to some degree and the OT believes that you require additional lessons or vehicle modifications to overcome any physical deficits. The OT will recommend a specific number of lessons (driving hours), which may be several lessons if you need to learn how to use a modification. You may need an OT driving reassessment after completing the endorsed hours, as well as undertake the RMS disability test. If the OT has prescribed you with a vehicle modification, this will be endorsed on your licence and you may not drive without the modification.