What illness can stop you driving?

Driving is a significant part of many people’s daily lives, and it requires physical and mental capabilities to ensure the safety of the driver and those around them. Certain medical conditions can impair one’s driving ability. At Barnetby Medical Centre, we are committed to helping our patients understand these conditions and make informed decisions about their driving habits.

Conditions of the Brain or Nervous System

Alzheimer's Disease and Conditions Affecting Memory

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients might still feel confident in their driving ability. However, as the disease progresses and condition affects memory and cognitive functions, it may be unsafe for them to drive. Early stages of Alzheimer’s can be tricky, as the patient might not recognise their declining driving ability.

Bipolar Disorder, Paranoid Schizophrenia, and Mental Health

Mental health conditions, notably bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, can influence one’s driving ability. The unpredictability of episodes, be it mania or depression, can pose a significant risk on the road. Medications prescribed for these conditions, while essential, can also affect driving.

Brain Tumours, Absence Seizures, and the Nervous System

Absence seizures, often subtle, can result in brief lapses in consciousness. Similarly, a brain tumour or other nervous system abnormalities can impair reflexes, decision-making, or other essential driving skills.

Vision Complications

Driving safely is an indispensable skill that heavily relies on clear and unobstructed vision. The eyes not only help in navigating the road but also play a crucial role in reacting promptly to unexpected hazards. However, several medical conditions and external factors can adversely affect vision, making driving a challenge and, at times, dangerous.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD)

Age-Related Macular Degeneration is a common eye condition predominantly found in older adults, leading to a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field (the macula) due to damage to the retina.

  • Early Stages: In the initial stages, ARMD can be asymptomatic or may present with slight distortion in the central vision. This distortion can make straight lines appear wavy or bent.

  • Advanced Stages: As ARMD advances, a more significant portion of the central vision gets affected, resulting in a blurred or blind spot right in the middle of one’s visual field. This makes activities like reading road signs or recognising the face of a pedestrian crossing the street challenging.

  • Impact on Driving: Drivers with ARMD must be especially careful during instances that require precise visual details, such as merging onto a highway, manoeuvring through roundabouts, or parking. While peripheral vision usually remains unaffected, the loss of central vision can make it difficult to gauge distances and identify potential hazards in time.

Double Vision (Diplopia) and Related Disorders

Double vision, medically termed as diplopia, is the simultaneous perception of two images of a single object. These images can be horizontally, vertically, or diagonally misaligned, making it an immediate concern for driving.

  • Causes: Double vision can arise from a myriad of conditions such as strabismus (misalignment of eyes), cataract, or even conditions affecting the nervous system like multiple sclerosis.

  • Associated Disorders: Alongside diplopia, other visual disorders like poor night vision (nyctalopia) or conditions causing blurred vision due to refractive errors or eye disease can hinder one’s ability to drive, especially under low light conditions or during bad weather.

  • Safety Measures: It’s imperative for individuals experiencing double vision to avoid driving until they’ve consulted with an ophthalmologist or neurologist. If the condition is treatable, driving might be resumed post-correction, but with periodic checks to ensure safety.

Colorful pills and drugs


Our brain and nervous system are central to our ability to drive safely. Several conditions could compromise this:

Prescription Drugs and Vision

It’s not only direct eye conditions that can impact vision; several prescription drugs come with side effects that can transiently compromise visual clarity.

  • Common Side Effects: Some medications can cause blurred vision, glare, halos around lights, or heightened sensitivity to light (photophobia). Drugs for hypertension, anxiety, antihistamines, or even some antibiotics can have these side effects.

  • Potential Risks: These visual disturbances can prove hazardous while driving, especially during the night or in brightly lit areas. Glare or halos can make oncoming headlights disorienting, and blurred vision can obscure important details on the road.

  • Consultation is Key: Before starting any new medication, patients should consult with their doctor or pharmacist about potential visual side effects. If such side effects occur and persist, it’s crucial to report them and discuss potential alternatives or solutions to ensure one’s ability to drive safely is not compromised.

Sleep Disorders and Excessive Sleepiness

Driving under the influence of sleepiness is as dangerous as drunk driving. Several conditions and factors contribute to this:

Sleep Apnoea and Associated Risks

Sleep apnoea, if not monitored closely, can lead to episodes of falling asleep suddenly, even during activities like driving. This disorder, especially when combined with certain prescription drugs, increases the risk of accidents.

Medical Conditions Causing Excessive Sleepiness

Chronic fatigue, caused by conditions such as anaemia or hypothyroidism, can result in drivers falling asleep at the wheel, posing a grave risk to themselves and others.

Cardiovascular and Heart Conditions

Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome (WPW)

WPW is a relatively rare condition where an extra electrical pathway in the heart can lead to episodes of rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

  • Symptoms and Driving Implications: While some individuals might remain asymptomatic, others can experience palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and in some cases, syncope (fainting). Experiencing such symptoms while driving, especially fainting, can have catastrophic consequences.

  • Management and Precautions: WPW can be managed with regular check-ups, knowledge of the triggers, and the right medicine. It’s critical for people with WPW to speak with their cardiologist about the effects on their driving and whether any limits need to be taken into account.


Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)

Often referred to as a ‘warning stroke,’ a TIA presents symptoms similar to a stroke but lasts only a short while, usually no more than an hour.

  • Immediate Implications: A few symptoms include sudden bewilderment, numbness in the limbs, dizziness, and difficulty speaking and seeing. Due to the rapid onset of these symptoms, a TIA can substantially impair one’s ability to drive safely, even if the episode is brief.

  • Post-TIA Precautions: After experiencing a TIA, it’s generally recommended to refrain from driving for a period, typically at least a month. However, guidelines can vary, and a neurologist’s advice should be sought.

Diverse Medical Conditions and Driving Ability

Driving involves a combination of physical, sensory, and cognitive tasks. A multitude of conditions can interfere with one’s capability to perform these tasks optimally.

Eating Disorders and Physical Impact

Eating disorders, while primarily associated with food and body image, can have wide-ranging physical and psychological implications.

  • Physical Symptoms: Anorexia nervosa and bulimia, among others, can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and even fainting due to malnutrition or dehydration. Reduced muscle strength can affect the ability to control the vehicle, especially in emergencies.

  • Cognitive Impact: Eating disorders can also result in reduced concentration, impaired judgement, and increased distractibility, which are hazardous when driving.

 Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC)

Autism spectrum conditions are characterised by a range of symptoms including difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviours.

  • Sensory Overload: Individuals with ASC can be hypersensitive to sensory inputs. The cacophony of traffic noises, changing road signs, and bustling streets can be overwhelming, leading to increased stress and reduced focus.

  • Routine and Predictability: Many individuals with ASC prefer routines and predictability. Unexpected changes, like detours, can cause anxiety.

  • Advantages: On the flip side, some individuals with ASC may have heightened focus and attention to detail, which can be beneficial for driving. Every individual’s experience on the spectrum is unique, so a personalised assessment is essential.

Prescription Drugs

Medications are formulated to treat or manage medical conditions. However, their side effects can sometimes be counterproductive to activities like driving.

  • Variability of Impact: Different drugs have varied effects. Some might cause drowsiness, while others can lead to dizziness, blurred vision, or even hallucinations. It’s not just sedatives or painkillers; even some antihistamines or antacids can affect alertness.

  • User Responsibility: It’s the responsibility of every individual to understand the implications of their medications on driving. Reading the leaflet, consulting with a pharmacist or doctor, and being especially cautious when starting a new medication are paramount. If a drug affects one’s ability to drive safely, alternative arrangements should be made.

Precautions and Recommendations

Always Consult a Medical Professional

If you or a loved one suspect that a medical condition affects your driving, always consult with a medical professional, ideally from trusted centres like the Barnetby Medical Centre.

Inform the DVLA and Insurance Company

For UK drivers, certain conditions must be reported to the DVLA. Your insurance company should also be in the loop to ensure you’re covered.

Medications and Driving

Before taking medication, especially a new prescription, always enquire about its potential impact on driving. Read any provided literature closely.

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Barnetby Private Medicals

many medical conditions can affect one’s driving ability. It’s essential to be aware, monitored closely, and make responsible decisions to ensure safety on the roads. If in doubt, always consult with a professional from institutions like the Barnetby Medical Centre. Safety should always be the deciding factor.

What illness can stop you driving?