by Linda W. Arms
I just drove behind a car with the sign “Caution! Caution! Student Driver”. It reminded me of when I started driving after my brain injury and how slowly and cautiously I would drive, just like the student driver I was following. I expect many of you have been in this same circumstance after your brain injury.
There have been a lot of us out there on the road. Does that make you comfortable? Driving is a challenging activity for many people after a brain injury. In fact, many of us were not to drive until some time had passed and we were functioning better. What about the people who haven’t been getting treatment after their “mild” brain injury but are dealing with cognitive challenges while not really aware of their impairments or are just “dealing” with it?
No one had to tell me not to drive. It was very obvious to me that I had a severe problem. My reaction time was slow. I had a number of visual disturbances. I wasn’t coordinated. It was hard for me to focus. I couldn’t remember my way around. Everything was a distraction. I also had problems with PTSD so any loud sound, sudden movement, or something unexpected left me shaking, in tears and made me want to shrink into a dark hole. Obviously, I was better off not being behind the wheel. Usually, if I had to drive for more than 20 minutes, my eyes would water constantly, something that happened when I was fatigued.
When I started driving again I sometimes had a weird sensation that I was nothing but a giant eyeball looking intensely at things before me. I know my hands were gripping the wheel and my jaw clenched because my teeth would hurt afterwards. All my energy and focus was on the act of driving. I’m glad those days are behind me. I drove as little as possible back then because it took too much of my limited energy.
After a brain injury, many activities that were part of our everyday life are very difficult or impossible. Driving is one of those things. It is extremely important to know when you are not capable of driving. Ask your doctors, your family members, and others who know you well if they aren’t the first to tell you not to drive. Be sure to ask yourself. I knew many times in some of the earlier years that I should not be on the road. There were just bad days were the brain injury symptoms were especially bad.
Since my brain injury I’ve often thought about other people who get hit on the head or have some other event that causes a brain injury. In the first couple hours or so, you might not have too many symptoms other than some pain or other minor problem. What happens when these recently injured people get behind the wheel for a long drive, or the pilot who goes into the cockpit and starts his flight; or the engineer getting into the train to travel cross county? What happens when the effects of the injury set in? Makes me want to ask the captain of the plane if he was hit on the head recently! We just don’t make a big enough deal of it when our head is injured!
So be safe. Think about how you are feeling before you get behind the wheel. Are you rested? Can you focus? Does your vision feel off? You may just be having an off day and you can drive tomorrow. You can also ask for a ride.
Here are some links to useful resources about Driving with a Brain Injury: