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Can people with epilepsy drive? Myth-busting

This page is about National Epilepsy Week 2013. Find out how you can get involved in 2016.

Myth: People with epilepsy can’t drive

Fact: Some people with epilepsy can drive depending on their seizures

Driving with epilepsy

Some people do not believe people with epilepsy can drive. Even some people with epilepsy are not aware that they might be eligible to drive.

In the UK if your seizures are controlled (for over a year), or meet specific criteria, you should be able to apply for some types of licence.

The evidence

Some studies have suggested that driving is one of the top concerns for people with epilepsy.[1][2][3]

There is evidence to suggest, quite sensibly, that drivers with active epilepsy are a greater risk on the road than those without it.[4][5] But research also suggests that drivers with epilepsy, who follow their treatment plans and the driving regulations, pose no greater driving risk than the general public.[6] One study from 1995 found that epileptic seizures accounted for 0.15 per cent of all serious accidents.[7] This means that for every 1,000 serious accidents only one was the result of an epileptic seizure.

The rules in the UK

There are two common types of driving licence. Group 1, which applies to cars, motorbikes and most other small vehicles. And Group 2, which applies to bigger vehicles such as lorries, heavy goods vehicles and other specialised types of vehicle.

People with epilepsy are very unlikely to qualify for a Group 2 licence. To do so, a person would have to be seizure-free for 10 years, and have not taken epilepsy medicines for at least 10 years. Epilepsy Action believes a period of 10 years seizure freedom alone should be enough to qualify.

People with epilepsy who take medication can qualify for a Group 1 licence. However, in general, they will have to have not had a seizure in the last 12 months. This has been the law since 1994. Earlier in 2013, the law was changed slightly for some types of seizure.

Case study

Alan Greg has had epilepsy for 40 years, since he was a child. He is a driver and passed his test 10 years ago. Alan told us: “As soon as I passed my driving test I had an epileptic attack and had to wait the year before I could drive again.

“I have focal seizures which are well controlled by the epilepsy medicines I take. Some people don't like me driving but the DVLA and their medical advisers would not let me drive if it was not safe to do so. Generally most people I know and people who get in the car with me are fine about me driving. They know that my seizures are well controlled and unlikely to pose a risk.”

Recent changes

Earlier this year, the rules and regulations that apply to people with epilepsy changed. Epilepsy Action gave its views on the changes when it submitted a response to the consultation on proposals to amend Driving Licence Standards for Vision, Diabetes and Epilepsy.

There are now new rules relating to whether people can drive if:

  • They have only had seizures while they sleep
  • They have only had seizures that do not affect their consciousness
  • Their doctor changed their dosage or medication, but they have now gone back to the original dosage or medication.

We have more information about epilepsy and driving.

Some studies have suggested that driving is one of the top concerns for people with epilepsy.[1][2][3]

There is evidence to suggest, quite sensibly, that drivers with active epilepsy are a greater risk on the road than those without it.[4][5] But research also suggests that drivers with epilepsy, who follow their treatment plans and the driving regulations, pose no greater driving risk than the general public.[6] One study from 1995 found that epileptic seizures accounted for 0.15 per cent of all serious accidents.[7] This means that for every 1,000 serious accidents only one was the result of an epileptic seizure.

Read all the myths we've busted during National Epilepsy Week

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[1] Gilliam et al  Patient-validated content of epilepsy-specific quality-of-life measurement, Epilepsia, 1997 (38) 233-236.

[2] Taylor et al Patients aim for epilepsy surgery: desires beyond on seizure freedom, Epilepsia, 2001; 42 (5) 629.

[3] Fisher et al The impact of epilepsy from a patients’ perspective I Descriptions and subjective perceptions. Epilepsy Res, 2000 41 (1); 39-51.

[4] Krauss et al Risk factors for seizure-related motor vehicle crashes in patients with epilepsy. Neurology, 1999; 52: 1324-1329.

[5] Berg et al Driving in adults with refractory localisation-related epilepsy: multi-centre study of epilepsy surgery. Neurology, 2000; 54: 625-630.

[6] Krauss et al Risk factors for seizure-related motor vehicle crashes in patients with epilepsy. Neurology, 1999; 52: 1324-1329.

[7] Taylor JF 1995. Medical aspects of Fitness to Drive. The Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. 1995, 35-43.

Comments: read the 7 comments or add yours

Comments

i have suffered with epilepsy for about 35 years my last fit was 20 years ago but i get daily seizures, i had been going through a tough time for quite a few years so my seizures were 24/7 so i understood why they wouldn't allow me to drive, my mum passed away in May this year but it somehow made me stronger i kept so busy sorting arrangements out i hadn't noticed my seizures, and even my dad said he hadn't noticed any and for as long as i can remember i've always wanted to drive i gave up asking the neurologist about driving as kept on upsetting me when they said no, i had appointment in june this year and plucked up the courage to ask and said i hadn't noticed them so he booked me in for a eeg and said it could be possible i would be allowed to drive it was something i had longed to hear all my life but i have had my eeg and 3 generalised burst lasting 2 seconds have showed up and although everyone keeps telling me it sounds positive i'm not so convinced. i'm not distant, never tired and am very active and am never forgetful

Submitted by vanessa stratton on

I have peti mal seizures would I be aloud to drive these are controlled don't have them often

Submitted by Susan on

Hi
I've been epilectic since school I'm now 40 ,I only take seizures when asleep and hardly ever , never during day when awake . I follow my medication program the way I should be also , petit mal . I applied last year and they turned me down but my doctor says I'm fit to drive ?

Submitted by Donna Mccann on

Hi Donna

Thank you for your comment. 

The driving laws can be confusing.

If you haven’t already you can use our driving tool to find out when you might be able to start driving again.

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/driving/can-i-drive

Or phone our freephone helpline so we can talk about this, as we need to confirm our understanding of your situation before we can comment.

The Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050 is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Regards 

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Hi, my partner had 1 seizure while on holiday in Ibiza about 18 months ago but was not diagnosed. He had another 2 seizures last October when he was diagnosed with epilepsy they put him on medication and he has not had any more seizures since.Wil he be able to drive again ?

Submitted by S horobin on

Hi. I'm 40 and had my first seizure 2 years ago. 2 weeks later I had another one and since then I've been on medication and have been seizure free. I had my driving licence back after 1 year, but I did have a lorry licence which Doesn't look like I'll have it back. My question is- is there any way too have my lorry licence back? I'm not willing to stop my medication. Do DVLA allow someone to drive a lorry while under medication? Because my medication work well then why can't I drive? I probably have a greater risk of haveing a heart attack while driving.
Thank you

Submitted by Llyr Thomas on

Hello Llyr

I can hear that this is a challenging situation to find yourself in. 

A person is not allowed to have a group 2 licence if they are taking epilepsy medicines. To have group 2 entitlements added to your licence you would need to meet the following criteria:

 

  • You hold a full car licence and
  • You’re seizure free for at least 10 years and
  • You’ve not taken epilepsy medicine during this 10 year period and
  • The driving agency is satisfied that you are not likely to be a danger to the public

 

These rules are as above because of the size and weight of the vehicle and the length of time an occupational driver typically spends at the wheel. It is possible that the DVLA would be able to explain this further. They can be contacted on 0300 790 6806. 

I appreciate that this will be difficult to accept, but I hope it helps make the rules more clear for you.

Karen

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on