If you’ve had a stroke, you may be wondering if you can drive again. That depends on the extent of your stroke and the part of the brain that it affected. Your healthcare team can help you know if driving again is possible.

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If you’ve had a stroke, the thought of driving again may be both exciting and intimidating. But how do you know when it’s safe for you to get back behind the wheel?

Read on for more information about how and when to get back on the road after a stroke.

Returning to the road after a stroke is a decision to make after a thorough exam and discussion with your doctor or healthcare professional. How soon you can get behind the wheel depends largely on state laws as well as the type and severity of stroke that you had.

Some steps you can take to determine if you’re ready to drive again include:

  • having a thorough assessment by a neurologist to determine if you have any residual effects from your stroke
  • checking with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Driver Services (DDS) to see whether your doctor or healthcare professional needs to report your health status before you can drive again

Many people have residual effects after having a stroke, and people can work diligently to regain some of the function that they lost. Still, the lingering symptoms of a stroke may affect your ability to drive safely.

At first, you may not experience or realize all the lingering effects you have. It’s very important to keep talking with your healthcare professional and family to help determine when you’re ready to consider driving again.

Some lingering effects that may affect you include:

  • paralysis or weakness affecting both or just one side of the body
  • difficulty with awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory
  • problems understanding or forming speech
  • pain in the hands and feet
  • trouble controlling or expressing emotions and becoming easily frustrated or confused
  • numbness or strange sensations
  • difficulties with chewing and swallowing
  • problems with bladder and bowel control
  • depression

These symptoms can all lead to dangerous situations on the road, including:

  • drifting into other lanes or forgetting traffic laws
  • having slow response times
  • forgetting certain aspects of driving while on the road
  • experiencing disorientation, confusion, and intense frustration

The right modifications to your car, as well as physical therapy, can help you return to the road feeling safe and secure.

Rehabilitation

You may enroll in a driver rehabilitation program put on by your local DMV, and run by a rehab specialist or occupational therapist after your stroke.

These programs often include:

  • an evaluation of your physical and mental abilities required for safe driving
  • an on-the-road wheel driving evaluation
  • if indicated by the evaluation, a driver training program

The results of these programs and tests are recommendations only. In many states, the therapist isn’t required to report the results to the DMV and can’t report the results without your consent.

In many cases, these programs are covered by health insurance if you have a referral from your doctor.

Contact a rehabilitation specialist in your area to help you figure out how to move forward.

Car modifications

In some cases, it may be useful to make physical modifications to your vehicle. Some of these modifications may include things like swiveling seats for easy in and out access, and hand controls for the gas and brakes. A specialist can help you determine what would be the best choice for you.

People who have had strokes may stay safer on the road with adaptive driver assistance features, such as:

  • lane departure warnings
  • automated cruise control
  • collision avoidance systems
  • pedestrian crash avoidance mitigation
  • night vision systems
  • driver fatigue warning systems

You can also enroll in adaptive driving courses to help you understand any new equipment you have installed in your car. These programs are offered for a fee, but you can apply for financial assistance.

Where to find rehabilitation services to help you drive after a stroke

Consider these resources for more information on where to find rehabilitation services after a stroke.

Many of these organizations can connect you directly with a driver rehabilitation specialist, someone who can help you get road-ready once again.

Determining whether you’re safe to drive after having a stroke is something that will take time. This is because many of the lingering effects of your stroke may not appear right away.

Your neurologist, any rehab specialist you’re working with, and your family will work with you to help determine what’s the safest choice for you.

In many cases, doctors suggest waiting at least a month before getting back on the road. However, it may be much longer before your symptoms are properly managed.

The laws about driving if you’ve had a stroke vary from state to state. It’s important to consult your local DMV to determine if there are any specific time or other restrictions in place.

In many states, doctors aren’t required by law to report any medical condition that could impair your ability to drive. Therefore, in many cases, the decision to get back on the road is solely based on your own experience.

However, that isn’t the case in all states so it’s important to look up the requirements of your state before driving again.

You and healthcare professionals will work together to decide when you’re safe to get back on the road. This decision is made considering the severity of your stroke, what (if any) long-term effects you’re experiencing, and the laws unique to your state or region.

The assessment of driving skills after a stroke generally comes in two parts:

  • Clinical evaluation: This assessment includes vision, motor function, and cognitive skills.
  • Behind-the-wheel assessment: If the clinical evaluation shows you have the skills to return to driving, you may be asked to complete an on-road assessment to determine your actual ability to drive. You can consult with an occupational therapist or driver rehab specialist to help determine your ability to drive.

Getting the news or deciding on your own that you can’t drive at all after having a stroke can be upsetting. It’s important to remember that your safety and the safety of other drivers on the road is the most important thing.

Luckily, there are many ways to get around and preserve your independence without driving. The first step is to plan ahead with family and friends to help determine how to smoothly transition from driver to passenger and still get to where you need to go. Some options include:

  • rides with family and friends
  • taxis, or other ride-share services like Uber or Lyft
  • shuttle buses or vans
  • public transportation
  • walking
  • paratransit services (special transportation services for people with disabilities, some offer door-to-door service)

To find transportation services in your area, visit www.eldercare.acl.gov or call the national ElderCare Locator at 800-677-1116 and ask for your local Office on Aging.

Are the family members of people who have had a stroke at higher risk of experiencing one?

There are some causes of stroke that are entirely genetic. Usually, people with these types of strokes will have many family members who have had strokes.

Apart from these conditions, any genetic cause of stroke is related to the inheritance of risk factors between family members, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This makes strokes more common in certain families.

Should I expect to get completely better after having a stroke?

While some people are able to completely recover from a stroke, a large proportion of people who experienced a stroke never completely recover and may have lingering effects for the rest of their life. The best way to treat a stroke is early recognition and early treatment.

Can I tell if I’m having a stroke?

Most of the time, a person having a stroke is unaware they’re having one, and the understanding a stroke is happening falls to people who witness the symptoms.

Injury to the brain is painless, and because the brain is being injured, the brain is usually unable to perceive any issues that come from a stroke as a problem. It’s very important to call 911 and use the emergency response system any time you see a person having stroke-like symptoms.

How about driving after a second or third stroke?

The guidelines discussed above apply to any stroke. The decision to drive after any repeat stroke requires a discussion between the person who has had a stroke and healthcare professionals.

People with recurrent strokes are more likely to experience worse residual deficits and are, therefore, less likely to be able to drive safely.

Are transient ischemic attacks (TIA) that bad if the symptoms resolve on their own?

Yes. The way that doctors approach and treat a TIA is almost identical to a stroke, and experiencing a TIA is an equivalent risk factor to any other type of stroke for having another stroke.

With this in mind, it’s extremely important to seek medical care even if you experience a TIA and your symptoms resolve. The only difference is that the residual deficits that you may have from a TIA are significantly less than other types of strokes.

Driving after a stroke can be an exciting return to normalcy and independence, and many people do return to the road after having a stroke. However, this decision is extremely dependent on the type and severity of a stroke and what kind of lingering symptoms you’re experiencing.

No matter what kind of stroke you had, you should always discuss your symptoms and timeline with your doctors and look up the individual laws and regulations regarding driving after a stroke for your state.

There are many programs and driver rehabilitation courses that you can take to help you build more confidence in driving once again.