There are many types of epilepsy. Generally, to be diagnosed as having epilepsy you must have had more than one seizure (fit or turn).
Seizures may result in involuntary and uncontrolled movements and a change in your state of consciousness (anything up to unconsciousness).
Because of the wide range in types of epilepsy and types of driver licence, the NZ Transport Agency doesn’t apply one rule in all situations.
Instead, we urge anyone who has recently had even one seizure to check with their health practitioner before driving. The health practitioner could be your usual doctor (GP), a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, or a specialist if appropriate.
A single seizure doesn’t necessarily mean you have epilepsy, but it does mean you will need to stop driving for 12 months. In exceptional circumstances the 12-month stand-down period may be reduced if there is a clearly identified non-recurring cause for the seizure. The 12-month stand-down period can be reviewed in consultation with a neurologist and your health practitioner.
You’re a private driver if you don’t earn a living from your driving (eg you don’t have a P, V, I or O endorsement on your licence and you don’t drive Class 2–5 work vehicles). You can follow these simple guidelines, but you still need to check with your health practitioner for more details.
Once you’ve been given suitable treatment (usually regular medication) you may reach a stage where the epilepsy seems controlled and you haven’t had a seizure for a substantial time.
Normally we’d need the period without seizures to be 12 months before we’d consider your epilepsy to be controlled. Under certain circumstances this may be reviewed in consultation with a neurologist and your health practitioner. It may be reduced to six months at the discretion of the Transport Agency.
The Transport Agency may consider granting a commercial driver licence to individuals who aren’t on medication if they have been free of seizures for five years.
If you’ve got an established pattern of sleep epilepsy, and for the last 12 months you’ve not had any seizures when you’re awake, then you should be able to drive a private motor vehicle. (An established pattern means at least three years where you only have seizures or turns when you’re asleep or upon waking.)
If you do ever have a seizure when you’re awake, the guidelines described earlier under ‘Controlled epilepsy: no seizures’ would apply.
Epilepsy is considered uncontrolled when:
Note: When your epilepsy is uncontrolled, you must get medical advice to establish when it will be safe for you to resume driving.
Anyone with head injuries severe enough to have caused unconsciousness, or loss of memory and tumours of the brain, may develop epilepsy. In these circumstances you must stop driving until you have consulted a neurologist about your fitness to resume.
When drivers with private vehicle licences do a lot of driving as part of their work (eg sales people, couriers) the risks from epilepsy are higher. Talk with your health practitioner about it. There may be insurance problems, or it may be unwise for other reasons to continue such driving.
As long as your epilepsy is controlled (see above), then your private driver licence itself should not be at risk, provided you follow medical advice.
These classes of driver licence and occupational endorsements are not usually available to anyone with a history of epilepsy.
Febrile convulsions in childhood, which stopped before the age of five years, don’t count as a history of epilepsy.
Once you’re able to drive again, there are some important things to do and know:
Your health practitioner is the best person to ask further questions about epilepsy. A handbook Medical aspects of fitness to drive (which includes advice on licensing drivers with epilepsy), has been issued to all health practitioners.