Driving can be safe for some people with epilepsy, but it depends on several factors, including the type of seizures a person experiences and how frequently the seizures occur.

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that can cause seizures. Seizures can cause a person to shake, stiffen, fall, or be unaware of their surroundings, among other symptoms.

Symptoms of a seizure can last a few minutes and prevent a person from carrying out daily tasks, such as driving.

Generally, legislation allows people with epilepsy to drive if their condition is under control and they have not had a seizure for an extended period. However, specific restrictions vary depending on location.

This article looks at everything to know about driving with epilepsy, including potential restrictions, precautions, and what to do if a person has a seizure while driving.

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The Epilepsy Foundation suggests that people with epilepsy have a higher risk of being involved in motor vehicle accidents than the general population. The foundation also suggests that certain types of seizures can also pose a greater risk to safety while driving.

Generalized seizures, such as tonic-clonic seizures, can cause loss of consciousness or muscle control, which can be very dangerous if they occur while driving.

Focal seizures that affect consciousness or awareness can also be hazardous for drivers. These seizures can cause confusion and tiredness for over 15 minutes as a person recovers.

Since the type of epilepsy and seizure can vary between individuals, people with epilepsy need to discuss their situation with a healthcare professional or an epilepsy specialist to determine whether it is safe for them to drive.

Many countries have driving restrictions for people with epilepsy to lower the risk of accidents that could harm drivers with epilepsy, their passengers, and other people on the road.

However, these restrictions vary by country and even by state or province within a country.

Some regions may require additional medical information or assessments before allowing someone to drive. Some examples of driving restrictions by country include:

  • United States: Diving laws vary by state, though most states require drivers with epilepsy to be seizure-free for a certain period before they can legally drive. Some states also require a doctor’s statement confirming that the person’s epilepsy is well managed and does not interfere with their driving ability.
  • United Kingdom: Drivers with epilepsy must be seizure-free for at least 6 months before applying for a driver’s license. If they have had a seizure within the last year, they must wait until they have been seizure-free for at least 6 months before applying.
  • Canada: Most provinces require drivers with epilepsy to be seizure-free for a period ranging from 6–12 months before they can legally drive. The length of this period can depend on license type and seizure type.
  • Australia: Drivers with epilepsy must be seizure-free for a certain period — usually 6–12 months — before they can legally drive.

Seizure driving restrictions by state

Each U.S. state has different regulations regarding if and when people with epilepsy can drive. Some states require that people periodically provide medical updates, whereas others do not.

To find out specific details for each state, people can check the Epilepsy Foundation’s Driving Laws page.

People need to be honest with themselves and their doctors about their epilepsy. If a person’s seizures are unpredictable, or they think they may be at risk of having one, it is not safe for them to drive.

The consequences of having a seizure while driving could result in life-altering injuries or death to the driver, passengers, or any bystanders.

If a person’s seizures are predictable and the person has approval from a healthcare professional to drive, there are precautions that drivers with epilepsy can take to reduce the risk of having a seizure while driving.

The Epilepsy Association of Western and Central PA recommends the following:

  • Follow medical advice: Follow any advice from healthcare professionals and take medication as prescribed to help control seizures.
  • Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can be a seizure trigger for people with epilepsy. If planning a long drive, rest frequently to avoid fatigue.
  • Understand and avoid seizure triggers: People with epilepsy need to avoid any known seizure triggers before and during driving, when possible.
  • Keep a seizure diary: Keeping a record of seizures and potential triggers can help identify patterns and avoid situations that may increase the risk of a seizure while driving.
  • Create a response plan: A response plan can help friends and family understand what to do if they are in the car when a person with epilepsy has a seizure while driving.

Certain medications, such as some antidepressants, can lower the seizure threshold and increase the risk of seizures. People can speak with a healthcare professional to ensure it is safe to drive when taking any prescribed medication.

Alcohol, seizure medications, and driving

The Epilepsy Foundation highlights that alcohol and seizure medications can affect a person’s response time, awareness, and coordination.

According to the foundation, drinking three or more alcoholic drinks can increase a person’s risk of having a seizure. Seizure medication can also lower a person’s tolerance for alcohol.

People need to avoid driving if they have recently consumed alcohol.

The Epilepsy Foundation does not list the act of driving as a known or common seizure trigger. However, certain situations or factors involved in driving may increase the risk of having a seizure.

According to a 2021 research review, stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation can trigger seizures in some people with epilepsy. Driving can be stressful, especially in heavy traffic or unfamiliar areas.

If a person is driving long distances or through the night, they can experience fatigue or sleep disruption, increasing the risk of seizure.

Some people with epilepsy may be sensitive to the visual stimuli associated with driving, such as flashing lights or patterns on the road, which can trigger a seizure.

If a person is caught driving after their license is suspended due to epilepsy, the consequences can vary depending on the laws and regulations in their local area.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, some potential consequences that a person may face if caught driving when their license is suspended after a seizure include:

  • legal penalties, such as fines or even imprisonment
  • increased insurance premiums
  • legal liability

If someone has a seizure while driving, it can be dangerous for the driver and others on the road. Sometimes, passengers may be able to gain control of the vehicle and help if a driver has a seizure while on the road.

If possible, passengers can try to move the vehicle to the side of the road and turn on the hazard lights to warn other drivers of a problem. After the vehicle has stopped, a person can:

  • call for emergency services
  • check the driver’s seat belt is not tight over their neck and adjust it if necessary
  • avoid restraining the driver or trying to stop their movements during a seizure, as this can cause injury to the driver and other people
  • stay with the driver until medical assistance arrives

If it is not safe to approach the vehicle — for instance, if the car is on a busy road — it may be best for observers to wait for emergency services to avoid any harm to themselves.

The person with epilepsy is typically responsible for reporting their seizures to the DMV. However, some laws may require healthcare professionals to report seizures if they have concerns about the person’s ability to drive safely.

In many U.S. states, drivers with epilepsy must report seizures to the DMV within a certain time frame. It is important to check with the local DMV or licensing authority to understand the specific regulations in the area.

Many places do not allow people to drive if they have had a recent seizure due to epilepsy. This varies depending on location. Anyone with epilepsy must know their local regulations regarding driving.

If a person has a seizure, they need to report it to the DMV or local authorities to understand any restrictions that may apply to them.