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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.

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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.

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