Epilepsy and Driving

The Epilepsy Foundation reports that epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder following Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It affects nearly 3 million Americans who have had two or more unprovoked seizures. Seizures occur when clusters of nerve cells in the brain fire irregular signals, which cause erratic movements or loss of consciousness. Epilepsy can affect an individual at any point in life but more commonly appears in childhood. Epilepsy can also be brought on by traumatic brain injury, stroke, or brain tumor.

According to the Huffington Post, former U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson was initially cited for felony hit and run after he was involved in three accidents on the same day. On June 9, Bryson allegedly hit a car stopped for a train, pulled over to speak with the driver, and then hit the car a second time as he was leaving the scene. Shortly after, he collided with another car and was later found unconscious in his car. Authorities administered a breathalyzer test, but it was negative for alcohol consumption. On June 21, Bryson stepped down from his position at U.S. Commerce Secretary citing health problems. The District Attorney has decided to drop the charges, after doctors testified that Bryson had suffered a seizure and was in a state of mental confusion when he left the scene of the accident. Bryson does not have a previous history of seizures.

Such an event makes people question how safe it is for people who suffer from epileptic seizures to drive. Most states place some restrictions on epileptic drivers. However, in many cases, circumstances in which seizures occur are somewhat predictable and therefore the states can limit restrictions placed on drivers at risk for seizure. In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires that drivers report medical conditions that affect their ability to operate a vehicle safely. In the case of epilepsy, most drivers who have not had a seizure in over six months are allowed to drive without restriction. Some drivers who have not had a seizure in over six months, but for one reason or another, are at a higher risk of seizure are placed on Medical Probation III. Drivers who have not experienced a seizure for three to six months are placed on Medical Probation II. Finally, drivers who have had a seizure within three months or whose seizures are uncontrolled may have their driver’s license suspended, revoked, or denied. California is one of six states that require physicians to report patient seizures.

The DMV looks at such factors as the severity of previous seizures, circumstances of previous seizures according to the individual’s medical history, how long between the occurrence of past seizures, and the driver’s compliance with DMV reporting policies when determining restrictions on an individual’s license.

Drivers who are willing to comply with DMV’s reporting policies are usually are better at self-regulating when they should and should not drive. For instance, drowsiness, alcohol consumption, stressful situations, and changes in medication may increase risk for seizures. Although drivers with epilepsy are about 50% more likely to get into an accident than the average driver, their accident rate is lower for epileptic drivers than male teenage drivers. Most patients respond extremely well to medication and other treatments and accordingly epilepsy does not necessarily mean the end of driving.

Greg Brod is an experienced personal injury attorney practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the Brod Law Firm we are committed to looking at every factor involved in our clients’ cases, because each client’s circumstances are unique. Contact us today for a free consultation.