Driving Safely After a Stroke

While a stroke can cause physical, visual, and cognitive problems, many survivors can drive again after rehab treatments and clearance from a doctor.
Written by Sara Brody
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
When you’re ready to get behind the wheel after a stroke, be sure to get approval from your doctor and
modify your vehicle
as needed.
Recovering from a stroke isn’t an easy process. On top of experiencing the stress of a medical emergency, many people also feel a loss of independence when they are not able to drive in the aftermath of their stroke. And while a stroke can affect driving ability by killing or damaging brain cells, many drivers do return to the road safely after a period of rehab and recovery. 
If you’re wondering how soon is safe—or what challenges you might anticipate driving after a stroke—bear in mind that the timeline varies for each individual. Only your doctor can speak to the specifics of your situation. But for now,
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How soon can I drive after having a stroke?

While experiencing a medical emergency is always scary, the good news is that the majority of strokes are mild or moderate. And many people who sustain mild or moderate strokes are able to return to the road soon after—provided they get clearance from a doctor and are no longer experiencing secondary effects from the stroke, including problems with mobility, vision, or cognition.
It’s important to give your brain time to heal, so many guidelines for driving after a mild stroke recommend waiting at least one month before returning to the road. However, the wait may be longer if your stroke or the aftereffects are more severe. 
In the end, it’s your doctor who can best assess your driving ability, as strokes are medically complex and everyone has different secondary effects. Don’t resume driving until you’ve been cleared to do so by a medical professional.

What challenges should I anticipate driving after a stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency in which blood supply to the brain is interrupted, and this can lead to varying degrees of brain damage. Early treatment with clot-busting medications can reduce the impact of a stroke, and other treatments are available to limit complications and prevent additional strokes. 
No matter your circumstances or treatment plan, you should be prepared for the possibility of physical, visual, or cognitive problems that linger after your stroke. It should be no surprise that such issues can make driving more complicated, so it’s important to educate yourself about what to expect and communicate with your doctor so they can accurately assess your driving abilities.

Physical problems

One common physical problem that can persist in the aftermath of a stroke is paralysis of the face, arm, or leg that can lead to trouble walking or speaking. Often, this paralysis happens on just one side of the body and doctors refer to it as hemiplegia. 
Other physical problems include:
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bodily stiffness (also known as spasticity)
  • Changes in sensation
  • Pain
  • Dizziness
For obvious reasons, any of these issues could cause problems on the road or even endanger you as a driver—which is why it’s so important to get medical clearance before driving again
Even if you’re currently struggling with mobility, there are various ways to navigate the issue and eventually drive again:
  • Physical therapy and a regular exercise regimen can help you regain muscle movement
  • Adaptive driving equipment may also increase your safety behind the wheel
Key Takeaway Strokes can cause physical problems like partial paralysis, so it’s important to pursue rehabilitation and seek the advice of your doctor before returning to the road. 

Vision problems

Anyone who holds a driver’s license knows the importance of visual acuity—or, in other words, the eye’s ability to distinguish shapes and details at a distance—because vision screenings are part of the licensing process. 
Unfortunately, strokes can cause a number of vision problems that impact driving ability. This includes:
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Issues with depth perception
  • Loss of central vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision.
As you recover from your stroke, you will likely have some form of vision therapy as part of your rehabilitation. This involves an assessment of your vision and the use of various techniques to improve it, including glasses with prisms, magnifiers, and visual scanning techniques. 
While some stroke survivors unfortunately experience a degree of permanent sight loss, many people see improvement in their vision for several months following a stroke. A doctor can determine when or if your eyesight is strong enough for you to drive safely again
Key Takeaway While damage to vision is common after a stroke, many people regain visual acuity over a span of months during recovery. 

Cognitive problems

After a stroke, you might experience some jarring cognitive effects:
  • Struggles with memory, concentration, problem-solving, and multi-tasking
  • Persistent fatigue 
  • Epilepsy—though it only occurs in 5-10% of stroke patients 
It’s important to be alert and attentive while driving, so you’ll want to make sure you’re mentally ready before you return to the road. Cognitive training is an option to improve your mental skills if you’re struggling with loss of memory or concentration, and you should be honest with yourself and your doctor when assessing your levels of fatigue. 
While epilepsy is a particularly complicated condition for drivers, stroke survivors who experience only one seizure may still eventually be cleared to drive again.
Key Takeaway If you’re struggling with issues like poor memory, difficulty concentrating, or persistent fatigue, there may be steps you can take to speed up your recovery. 
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Will I need to make modifications to my car?

Adjusting to life after a stroke can feel overwhelming, and you might be itching to drive again to recover some independence. Luckily, adaptive driving equipment can allow you to return to the wheel sooner. 
Here are some of the tools that can make driving easier for people with physical complications:
  • Spinner wheels—a steering wheel attachment that will allow you to drive one-handed
  • Left-foot accelerators—designed for those with physical impairments on the right side of the body
  • Swivel seats—designed to help you get in and out of your car more easily
You might also consider signing up for an adaptive driving course, which will likely involve clinical and behind-the-wheel evaluations followed by training to help you redevelop skills you lost after your stroke. Some examples include foot drop exercises, which improve your ability to use your feet while driving, or learning compensation strategies to approach familiar tasks in new ways that are easier for your body.
Key Takeaway Both adaptive driving equipment and courses can hasten your return to the wheel by providing you with tools to drive safely despite challenges related to your stroke. 

How to find affordable car insurance

When returning to the road after a stroke, safety is key. You can also improve your safety on the road by making sure you have great insurance coverage. But if the thought of shopping for a new plan feels overwhelming right now, don’t worry!
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