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Could drivers who cause accidents be suffering from concussion?

Recent research indicates that a concussion can impair driving skills long after the person has “recovered.”

Among other findings, a study at the University of Georgia indicated that post-concussion drivers lacked vehicle control. This could contribute to a car crash causing serious injury to you or a family member.

“Driving under the influence of concussion”

A UGA associate professor in the university’s department of kinesiology supervised the study with 14 college-age participants. Each of the subjects had supposedly recovered from a concussion, and reported that they were feeling well.

The participants took a driving test on a simulator. They drove erratically, sometimes swerving within a lane. At times, their performance behind the wheel resembled driving under the influence of alcohol. In particular, the post-concussion drivers had difficulty negotiating curves and staying in their lane.

Despite having no symptoms of concussion, the subjects also performed lower than the control group on tests of verbal, short-term memory and motor skills.

Driving versus playing sports

Signs of a concussion, which may not show up at first, include headaches, dizziness, confusion, fatigue and slurred speech, among other symptoms.

The researcher pointed out that UGA athletes who have had concussions are not permitted to return to the field of play until they take a series of tests to determine where they are compared to benchmarks for normal brain function. However, there are no such tests required for those UGA athletes to resume driving.

Should there be a driving moratorium after a concussion?

The main takeaway from the study, the first of its kind, is that people who feel fine and outwardly show no residual effects of concussion may not be safe to drive. The typical person recovers from a concussion within seven days. But in the UGA study, students who had been symptom-free for at least 48 hours were still prone to driving erratically.

Perhaps there should be driving-specific tests for those recovering from a concussion. And maybe all accident victims with a known or suspected brain injury should be restricted from driving until they are cleared by a doctor.

 

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