Chevron up

Navigating the road back to driving after a head injury

Craig has been recovering from a sporting-related concussion over the past three and a half months. Here, he reflects on his return to driving and shares some considerations and tips for those returning to driving themselves.

The road to recovery after a concussion is a frustrating struggle. It impacts every facet of your life. At least, that’s been my experience. While out running one evening, I tripped and hit my head, which left me concussed and unfit to work or drive.

Retrograde amnesia meant I had no recollection of the events surrounding the accident, as well as an inability to remember events from my past. Forming new memories was difficult and meant those supporting my recovery were repeatedly subject to the same questions.

Concussion impacts people in different ways, and each person will have a different journey returning to driving and work after an accident like this. Nonetheless, I have personally found it helpful to read about how others have managed their paths to recovery. Hence, I share my story and the lessons gained to support others experiencing a similar situation.

You may be given the okay to drive when you aren’t okay.

On discharge from the hospital, the guidance was not to drive for 48 hours. I didn’t have the symptoms they said they were looking to declare that I was not fit to drive: no light aversion or vision issues. I’ve since learned there are other symptoms considered, but these were the two communicated to me.

As those 48 hours came and went, it was obvious that I was in no fit state to drive. I was still having trouble with short-term memory, I couldn’t concentrate on even the simplest of tasks, I was easily frustrated, and I had constant headaches and fatigue.

At Fleetcoach, a key element of why our training is effective is that we help drivers grow in self-awareness. I could apply that self-awareness to my situation and make the safe decision that I was still not ready to get behind the wheel.

It’s important to listen to the advice of medical professionals but also be honest with them and yourself about your ability to drive safely post-accident.

The opportunity to talk through my recovery and set a return to work and driving plan came three weeks after discharge, with a referral to the concussion clinic. The return to driving can take some time for all sorts of reasons.

It can take longer than you think to return to driving.

With the ability to drive comes a level of independence and freedom. When that’s taken away, it can be very frustrating. I struggled with the fact I was now reliant on others to get places and didn’t want to be an imposition on them.

However, there were other options; ACC provided good travel support to get to medical appointments, and I walked a lot. Walking proved to be a great option; it got me where I needed to be, was a healthy alternative and proved to be very good at managing my concussion symptoms. Reports on the benefits of walking was something I encountered a lot when reading about how others had dealt with their recovery from concussions.

When we got to the point where we agreed I was okay to start driving again, it still took me a few days to take the first drive. I’d simply lost confidence in my driving ability.

Three and a half months on, I still feel the effects of the concussion on my driving, and I continue to use the techniques I have learned to manage that. These include:

-        Limiting my time behind the wheel and ensuring I take regular driving breaks.

-        Removing potential distractions that could take attention away from driving. This includes the obvious turning off my mobile phone, but also turning off the radio.

-        Programming my journey into my GPS, with spoken instructions turned on to lower the navigation burden.

-        Allowing extra time at the end of the journey to recharge.

The return to driving has been gradual; don’t expect that everything will be the same as it was before the concussion when you get back behind the wheel.

Safe driving requires more than just physical driving ability.

Driving safely requires a lot more than simply having good vision and coordination. Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) note that safe drivers are:

-        Able to react quickly,

-        Make rapid decisions, and

-        Aware of what else is happening on the road around them.

However, these skills can be compromised by head injuries, as I certainly found.

The concussion meant I found it very difficult to process things at normal speed, let alone be able to make rapid decisions and react quickly. Information was taking much longer to process, and sometimes, I simply could not make a decision. Not a great state to be in when behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

I struggled with attention. Taking in information, storing that away and recalling it again even a few seconds later was difficult. When conversing with friends and family or joining a meeting at work, simple techniques provided support here, such as:

-        Taking a few minutes before to write down what I wanted to say meant that nothing would get missed.

-        Taking notes as the conversation continued so I didn’t have to decide between giving attention to the conversation or the memory.

These techniques don’t work when driving though. You don’t have the luxury of time to take notes of what you’re seeing around you, nor the time to refer back to those notes later.

When driving, you’re keeping an eye on the other vehicles, the cyclist ahead, the pedestrians nearing the crossing – all that information has to be held in your brain and retrieved to make safe choices. If I’m not able to do that well –should I be driving?

Can driver training support your return to driving?

Customers have told me in the past that Fleetcoach has helped them return to driving post-accident. In my return to driving, I’ve been using our training in much the same way as they did.

I mentioned earlier that my confidence in driving took a hit as a result of the concussion. In those few days between when it was decided I could drive again and I actually had the confidence to drive, I took the Fleetcoach Skills Awareness course.

As the course provides real-world driving scenarios, it allowed me to practice and assess those skills I’d need on the road in a safe environment. There were two key things I was looking for to give me the confidence I was ok to drive:

1.      Could I still effectively identify hazards and risky situations when driving?

2.     Was I able to maintain those skills fora suitable period of time?

The Skills Awareness course took me through a series of different scenarios to answer my first question. The ability to work through those scenarios over an extended period of time gave me the confidence in answering question two, that I was not only performing the skills well, but I was able to maintain that level for a length of time that was longer than the trips I was planning.

Despite the frustrating setbacks, the last three months have been an incredible time of growth, and things could have been much worse. If you or a loved one is going through something similar, reach out to the support available to you. If driving is an aspect of recovery you are struggling with, checkout for yourself just how beneficial our Fleetcoach modules can be in supporting you on your journey to getting back behind the wheel.

Browse Blog
Road heading into the distance

Contact us today