New research suggests concussions may affect driving skills long after the person has recovered. This is dangerous not only for the person recovering from brain trauma but for everyone else on the road.
We hear about the long-term effects of concussions on athletes, but that is just a fraction of people who have suffered brain injuries. This new study raises safety concerns about motorists driving abilities may be compromised even though they no longer have concussion symptoms.
The simulator test
The study, undertaken by researchers at the University of Georgia, involved 14 college-age participants who had suffered concussions. All reported having no residual effects during the previous 48 hours and agreed to take a simulated driving test. Although each of the participants felt totally recovered from injury, testing showed they were driving erratically. At times, they exhibited little control and their behavior resembled that of someone driving under the influence of alcohol.
Symptoms may linger long after a head trauma
People who sustain concussions may have headaches, feel dizzy or nauseous. They may tire easily, become confused or struggle with concentration or memory issues. Some people do not remember the event that caused the injury. Much of the research about the effects of concussions focuses on athletes, how their brains are functioning post-trauma and when they can safely return to the field or court.
At UGA, as at other schools, they give little if any consideration to safety concerns and driving. In fact, many athletes drive themselves home following the incident during which they suffered the injury. The simulator test indicates that even when symptoms subside, recovery may not be complete. Concussion victims who get behind the wheel could therefore be a danger to themselves and other motorists.
Nearly 25 percent of all Americans have had at least one concussion in their lifetime, according to poll by NPR and Truven Health Analytics. About half of those have had two, three or more concussions. And about one-third of those who suffered concussions said they experienced long-term health effects. The most common lingering symptom is headaches, but more than half report problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.
The next step for researchers is to determine at what point a concussed person’s driving skills improve or fully recover. They also hope to develop guidelines that will indicate when and for how long to restrict driving following this kind of injury.
No one wants to be an accident victim, and most people drive defensively. Keep in mind that, along with drunk or distracted drivers, the next motorist you see who is driving erratically may be recovering from a concussion and unaware that he or she presents a road hazard.