Obtaining your license after a seizure

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A seizure may cause an individual to lose control over their bodily functions — or even become unconscious. If such an event happens while someone is behind the wheel, the result could be catastrophic. DMVs in many states may suspend a driver’s license if a driver is diagnosed with epilepsy or suffers from seizures. The restrictions are for the driver’s safety — and for those who share the road with them.

Being diagnosed with epilepsy or seizures can make getting a license or maintaining driving privileges a challenge, but it is possible for the two to coexist. This guide explains how.

What are the driving risks?

The biggest driving risk if you have been diagnosed with epilepsy or other types of disorders causing seizures is that you may have a seizure while driving. If you are on the road, losing control could lead to a severe accident, potentially causing property damage or injuring pedestrians, other drivers and yourself. A classic study of nearly 17,000 respondents found that those who suffer from epilepsy or seizures are no more likely to cause an accident than an average driver. However, should an accident occur, the risk of severe injury or damage is 40% greater.

Medication could also contribute to increasing the risk of a serious accident. As with many types of prescription medication, operating machinery and vehicles is typically not advised. Seizure medication has side effects that can affect a person’s ability to drive safely and defensively. Some of the most common side effects (especially in the beginning) of anti-seizure medications that could impair driving include drowsiness, blurry vision and dizziness.

In addition, driving too soon after experiencing seizures could potentially flag a driver as risky with insurance companies. Drivers who appear reckless or more comfortable with risky behavior are considered more likely to cause an accident.

Driving safely with epilepsy

Living with epilepsy does not mean a person can no longer drive. Just like it is possible to live a normal life despite being prone to seizures, it is possible to drive if you make adjustments and know how to manage the condition safely. Some ways to drive safely with epilepsy include:

  • Report the condition to the DMV: Each state has its own guidelines for drivers with epilepsy. Reporting your condition to the DMV alerts them and provides you with information about potential restrictions.
  • Work closely with your doctor: Your doctor will help you manage the condition and, in many states, be your representative if you are seeking reinstatement of your license.
  • Take your anti-seizure medication: Anti-seizure prescriptions can help reduce how often you get seizures and their severity.
  • Avoid triggers: Driving while you are stressed or tired could increase the chances of a seizure. In other cases, flashing lights could cause one, so you may want to do more of your driving during the day.
  • Avoid driving during certain circumstances: Driving at high speeds or during times of day when the sun may affect your vision should be avoided to prevent the risk of a seizure.
  • Maintain auto insurance: Car insurance coverage may be more important than ever. Consider upgrading to full coverage car insurance that will pay for damage you cause if you are at fault in an accident.

Auto insurance and epilepsy

Making sure you have a current car insurance policy is critical. Carriers generally cannot drop you because you have seizures. However, if your license was suspended or restricted by the DMV, you may not be able to insure your vehicle. Contact your carrier and notify them of your condition to make sure you are covered.

The best insurance companies offer add-ons that expand your car insurance. Epileptic drivers should consider full coverage car insurance and raising coverage limits where possible to account for the possibility of costlier accidents. Lowering your insurance deductibles may also be helpful if you worry about the higher risk of accidents — it will be far easier to pay a $500 deductible over $1,000. Keep in mind that lower deductibles mean higher premiums, so look at your financial situation to decide which works best for you.

License restrictions

Drivers with epilepsy or seizure disorders typically face restrictions from the DMV. Each state has its own regulations and limits for drivers who have recently experienced a seizure, with varying levels of restrictions. Even if you do not report your seizures to the DMV, they may find out — in some states, doctors and hospitals are often required to report people who experience a seizure while in their care.

Depending on the circumstances, a state’s DMV typically has guidelines in place for drivers who have recently had seizures. They may:

  • Temporarily suspend your driver’s license for three to six months, on average.
  • Require you to periodically report to a doctor to monitor your recovery.
  • Review the case through a Medical Advisory or Medical Review Board after a set period.
  • Ask for a recommendation letter from your doctor before allowing you to drive again.
  • Possibly require a written, driving or vision test (depending on the circumstances and severity of the seizures) before reinstating your driver’s license.

These guidelines are in place because states essentially want to make sure a driver with epilepsy does not suffer from frequent seizures, which could lead to a serious crash and/or injuring others while behind the wheel.

State by state laws

States have varying laws regarding drivers who suffer from seizures. Epilepsy.com publishes information based on each state’s regulations.

State DMV Appeal of License Denial Doctors to Report Epilepsy Periodic Medical Updates Required After Licensing Seizure-Free Period
AL Yes No At discretion of Medical Review Board 6 months, with doctor’s statement
AK Yes No At discretion of DMV 6 months
AZ Yes No At discretion of DMV 3 months, with exceptions
AK Yes No At discretion of DMV 1 year, with exceptions
CA Yes Yes At discretion of DMV 3 to 6 months, with exceptions
CO Yes No At discretion of DMV No set period
CT Yes No At discretion of DMV No set period
DE Yes Yes Annually No set period
DC Yes No Annually until 5 years seizure-free 1 year
FL Yes No At discretion of Medical Review Board 6 months, with doctor’s statement
GA Yes No At discretion of Medical Review Board 6 months, with doctor’s statement
HI Yes No At discretion of DMV 6 months, with exceptions
ID Yes No At discretion of DMV No set seizure-free period
IL Yes No At discretion of DMV No set seizure-free period
IN Yes No At discretion of DMV No set seizure-free period
IA Yes No After the first 6 months and again at renewal 6 months, with doctor’s statement
KS Yes No Annually until 3 seizure-free years 6 months, with exceptions
KY Yes No On renewal 3 months or longer
LA Yes No At discretion of DMV No set seizure-free period with doctor’s recommendation
ME Yes No At discretion of DMV 3 months or 2 years, depending on the medical prognosis
MD Yes No At discretion of DMV 3 months, with exceptions
MA Yes No At discretion of DMV 6 months, with exceptions
MI Yes No At discretion of DMV 6 months, with exceptions
MN Yes No Every 6 months or less, depending on circumstances 3 months, with doctor’s statement
MS Yes No At discretion of Medical Review Board 6 months
MO No No At discretion of DMV 6 months, with doctor’s recommendation
MT Yes No At discretion of DMV No set seizure-free period with doctor recommendation
NE Yes No No No set seizure-free period
NV Yes Yes Annually for 3 years 3 months, with exceptions
NH Yes No No 1 year or less at the discretion of the DMV
NJ Yes Yes Every six months the first two years, then annually 6 months
NM Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 6 months
NY Yes No At the discretion of the DMV 1 year or less at the discretion of the DMV
NC Yes No At the discretion of the DMV 6 months
ND Yes No Annually for the first 3 years or longer 6 months, restricted license after 3 months
OH Yes No At the discretion of the DMV No set seizure-free period
OK Yes No At the discretion of Department of Public Safety 6 months, with exceptions
OR Yes Yes At the discretion of the DMV 3 months or longer
PA Yes Yes At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 6 months, with exceptions
RI Yes No At the discretion of the DMV 18 months although less at DMV’s discretion
SC Yes No At 6 months, then each year for 3 years 6 months
SD Yes No Every 6 months until 1 year without seizures 6 – 12 months, less is possible with doctor’s recommendation
TN Yes No At discretion of Medical Review Board 6 -12 months, with exceptions
TX Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 3 months, with exceptions
UT Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 3 months, with exceptions
VT Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board No set seizure-free period
VA Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 6 months, with exceptions
WA Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 6 months, with exceptions
WV Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 6 months
WI Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board 3 months, with doctor’s recommendation
WY Yes No At discretion of Medical Advisory Board No set seizure-free period

What the experts say

Dr. Jacqueline French, Chief Medical & Innovation Officer of the Epilepsy Foundation

“Laws are written to protect public safety and to grant the privilege of driving to people who are the least likely to have an accident.” Seizures can affect someone’s driving privileges temporarily, but with proper medical care, a driver may be safely back on the road after they can prove they have not experienced seizures over several months to a few years.

Dr. French reminds those with epilepsy that “The DMV, not the doctor, makes the decision on driving in most states.” Even if your doctor feels you are fit to drive, they can only make a recommendation for the Department of Motor Vehicles to review and rule on. If you are diagnosed with epilepsy or another condition that may increase the chance of seizures, notify your state’s DMV, continue medical treatment and work on a plan with your doctor or healthcare provider to get back safely on the road.

Written by
Cynthia Paez Bowman
Personal Finance Contributor
Cynthia Paez Bowman is a finance and business journalist who has been featured in Bankrate, Business Jet Traveler, MSN, CheatSheet.com, Freshome.com and TheSimpleDollar.com. She regularly travels to Africa and the Middle East to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development and works with select startups and women-owned businesses to provide growth and visibility.
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