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8 Health Factors That May Affect Your Ability To Drive Safely

8 Health Factors That May Affect Your Ability To Drive Safely

Apr 4, 2023

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic fatalities in New Jersey increased this year by 13.7 percent. With traffic deaths on the rise nationwide since COVID-19, transportation experts are acknowledging that many of these accidents are preventable. 

Understanding health factors that may increase your chances of getting into a car accident can help ensure your safety and the safety of others. Here are eight medical conditions and health factors that may affect your ability to drive safely. 

1. Substance abuse

Alcohol and illegal substances can affect your coordination, judgment, and reaction time, impairing your ability to drive safely. Driving under the influence is a significant road safety issue, posing dangers to yourself, your passengers and others on the road. Do not get behind the wheel if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs

2. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications

Some medications, including certain over-the-counter allergy and cold medicine, have side effects that can cause drowsiness. Feeling drowsy while driving can affect your ability to drive safely, so avoid driving until you find out how your medication affects you. If you have questions about your side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to ensure it’s safe for you to drive. 

3. Mental health concerns

Woman is driving her car very aggressive and gives gesture with her fist. Angry female driver.

Your mental health can impact road safety. Drivers experiencing emotional agitation or road rage are more likely to be involved in an accident, and anxiety and depression symptoms are associated with risky driving habits. 

Ensure the safety of yourself and others on the road by emotionally regulating yourself before getting behind the wheel. And never drive if you’re experiencing extreme emotions or physical agitation. You can address your mental health concerns by speaking with your primary care physician or a mental health professional.

Distracted driving is a related concern. If you’re engaged in another activity or preoccupied by thoughts that impact your ability to drive safely, you’re increasing your chances of being involved in an accident. Distracted driving is no better than driving under the influence. Instead, save your phone calls and concerns for later or use a hands-free device.  

4. Vision impairment

“Vision loss can affect your ability to see road signs, objects in the road and pedestrians,” said Sean Sussman, D.O., physician at Inspira Medical Group Primary Care Woolwich. “Age-related macular degeneration, which is the progressive worsening and loss of vision with age, is a common condition that can distort your central field of vision.” Cataracts in later stages can also blur your vision, causing poor night vision and double vision. If vision issues worsen and driving becomes dangerous, your safest option is to rely on alternate modes of transportation. If you're concerned about whether your eyesight affects your driving, talk to your doctor about getting your vision evaluated.

Caregiver helping senior out of the car

5. Dementia

Dementia is a group of conditions characterized by loss of memory, problem-solving skills, language and other cognitive abilities. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Since dementia impairs decision-making, judgment and memory, it can make driving unsafe, especially as the condition progresses. 

6. Epilepsy

“Epilepsy can cause recurring seizures with no warning and lead to a temporary loss of awareness or consciousness,” said Dr. Sussman. “People diagnosed with epilepsy often have restricted driving privileges unless their condition is under control, which usually involves being seizure-free for some time.”

7. Neurological conditions

Some neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, can affect your nervous system and driving abilities. Strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) can also affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle. While many stroke survivors can eventually return to driving after significant rehabilitation, it depends on where their stroke took place and the extent of the damage it caused. 

Person with heart attack while driving. Driver with chest pain.

8. Angina

“Angina is a form of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart,” said Dr. Sussman. “Angina is a warning sign of heart disease and may also signify the onset of a heart attack.” If you experience chest pain while driving, pull over and rest until your symptoms are under control. If you have chest pain while driving, stop driving and call 9-1-1 right away. 

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Topics: Addiction Services, Behavioral Health, Cardiology & Heart Health, Neurology & Neurosurgery