Information for drivers with head injuries. This page outlines the impact such injuries can have on your driving ability and advises general and medical requirements to retain or get your licence back after you have had a head injury.
Many people who've had a brain injury resulting from a blow to the head can regain or relearn a lot of the activities they performed before they sustained the injury. Driving is one of these activities.
Being able to drive can allow people to be more independent, which is important for people who have suffered an injury.
Driving is an activity that requires the co-ordination of both mental and physical skills. Even if a person is confident that their driving skills have remained intact after an injury, it's still important to take the necessary steps to ensure safe driving.
This page looks at how a head injury can affect someone's driving ability, the steps to help someone return to safe driving and some possible transport alternatives.
Every driver should have the following skills to ensure they can safely operate a vehicle:
It's important to remember that certain medications can affect coordination and reaction times while driving.
A head injury may affect people in different ways. Listed below are some of the consequences of a head injury that could affect someone's driving.
Head injuries severe enough to have caused unconsciousness or loss of memory may result in epilepsy. (This doesn't include seizures immediately after the injury, which are considered part of the injury process).
Read more about epilepsy and driving
When a person can return to driving depends on the type of licence and any endorsements they hold, and the nature and extent of the head injury. Higher criteria apply where commercial classes and endorsements are concerned.
With serious head injuries, the NZ Transport Agency usually requires a neurologist's report and an occupational therapist's assessment before a person will be allowed to start driving again.
If you have an Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) case manager, check whether funding is available for driving assessments and/or specialist medical assessments (if required).
The first step before a return to driving is to consult a health practitioner, who can determine if the person is fit enough to drive. The health practitioner could be your usual doctor (GP), a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, or a specialist if appropriate.
The health practitioner may recommend or require an additional assessment with an occupational therapist.
An assessment with an occupational therapist can:
The person with the head injury should ask these questions before seeing an occupational therapist:
Occupational therapy assessments: what's involved
Insurance companies usually require that any condition likely to affect a driver's ability be disclosed or the company has the right to exclude cover. After notification of a medical condition, whether the company will continue to provide insurance cover depends on the recommendation of a health practitioner and consultation with the insured parties. The insurance company should be asked whether, in the event of a crash, the injured person will receive insurance cover.
If you have a mobility disability, you may be eligible for a mobility parking permit card (mobility card). Forms are available from your local CCS office and must be completed by a health practitioner.
CCS Disability Action(external link)
Some changes that occur after sustaining a head injury can't be overcome and may prevent a person from ever driving again. Giving up driving privileges can mean a loss of self-esteem and freedom, which may in turn cause frustration and anger.
Here are some alternatives to driving:
Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC)(external link)
Download Factsheet 36: Head injuries and driving [PDF, 51 KB]