8 October 2012

Head-Injured Drivers Pose Safety Risk. Part 1

Posted by Jody under: Mental Health .

As a cyclist often caught in congested London traffic, general practitioner Douglas Carnall, M.D., worries about hazardous driving. In fact, his Web site even promotes the “Fumin’ Pad,” a Velcro-backed pad of Post-It notes easily mounted on bike handlebars, so that cyclists can jot down the license numbers of dangerous motorists and report them to the police.

Now Carnall has yet another reason to worry. According to a report in the June issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, many patients who resume driving after head injury may be unfit drivers.

“Judging from the poor standards of driving of motor vehicles, I find this report unsurprising, but obviously very worrying,” Carnall says. “I hope this research will fuel greater demand for all drivers to continue to prove their competence at a task in which failure often has tragic consequences.”

While most of us realize the dangers of drunk driving and of driving by the very elderly, the hazards of driving after head injury may not be recognized by patients, their families, or even by physicians. Many who recover after head injury seem physically normal and have no obvious weakness or coordination problems, yet have subtle impairments hindering safe driving.

This study from 10 English rehabilitation units followed 563 adults with traumatic brain injury for two and a half years. Although one-third of previous drivers returned to driving after head injury, almost two-thirds of those resuming driving had memory loss, and half reported anger, aggression and irritability that could trigger “road rage.”

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