It’s common sense that you should be in a healthy state of mind before driving a car, but a new study shows that some injuries may negatively affect driving performance long after symptoms have disappeared.
Researchers from the University of Georgia have found that this is especially true of consumers who have suffered a concussion. In their study, they analyzed drivers who had recently recovered from a concussion and observed that the injury had an impact on their ability to drive safely.
"They had less vehicle control while they were doing the driving simulation, and they swerved more within the lane," Schmidt said. "This is a pretty large indicator of motor vehicle accident risk, and this is at a time point when they are considered recovered," said lead author Julianne Schmidt.
Worsened driving performance
The study included 14 college-aged participants who were within 48 hours of feeling that their concussion symptoms had gone away. Each person attested that they felt completely fine and recovered from their injuries, but their simulator results told a different story.
Participants were more likely to swerve within and out of their lane during the testing period, and overall vehicle control was poorer in the concussed group than it was in the study’s control group. This was especially apparent when navigating around curves. Schmidt says these indicators mark a clear difference between recently concussed individuals and the average driver.
"The driving simulation shows they are performing very differently on the road compared to people who are not concussed, even after such symptoms resolve," she said.
Keeping roads safe
Previously, researchers had focused concussion research on athletes and the effects of contact sports. The researchers point out that such athletes are often restricted from further participation in athletic contests, but current recommendations are lax when it comes to driving.
"In athletics, we don't restrict their driving before their symptoms resolve. Often, people will get a concussion and drive home from the event or practice that caused the concussion -- there are no restrictions there. Whereas, we would never let them go out on the field or court; we're very strict about that," said Schmidt.
The researchers believe their findings provide good evidence that concussions affect people longer than the symptoms otherwise indicate. Schmidt states that this may be reason enough to restrict driving privileges even after symptoms are clear so that concussed individuals, and those they share the road with, stay safe.
"We have very fine-tuned recommendations for when a concussed individual is ready to return to sport and the classroom, but we don't even mention driving in our recommendations. And only 50 percent of people intend to restrict their driving at any point following a concussion -- which means that by the time they are feeling better, they are almost certainly on the road."