After someone has had a stroke, the model of car that they own or buy can make a big difference - this guide will help you to choose a car with built-in features that will be easier to use. This guide also directs you to the sections of our website that have detailed information on the specialist products and techniques that can be used to adapt to physical disabilities.
You can also download this as a complete guide: Motoring after a stroke (PDF). Or you can receive printed publications by post (UK only). A related guide that may be useful is Motoring after a brain injury.
After a stroke, you might want to get straight behind the wheel. But don't rush - recovery can take up to two years or more. With full or near-full recovery, you may well be able to drive with standard controls. Below, we give details of how a stroke might affect your driving and what you can do to meet these challenges, as well as legal and insurance requirements you need to know about.
More detailed information on choosing, adapting and using a car can be found in the following guides:
This guide covers a range of things to think about if you have a disability. It includes details of features that may help you and ways of adapting a car to suit you. However, you may be able to continue driving an unadapted car, particularly if it has automatic transmission and power steering. Also, the less a car has to be modified to suit your needs, the higher its resale value.
There is a range of adaptations that make motoring easier for drivers who have difficulty operating a standard vehicle. See this guide for in-depth information on types of adaptations and how to get them.
Sometimes, just the right technique is all you need. The guide also covers helpful equipment and details of various lifting systems if you need more help:
- hoists that lift and lower you on to a car seat
- lifting seats that swing out and into the car, lowering and locking into a position to suit you
A run-down of equipment to help you stow or carry a wheelchair:
- hoists that lift a manual or powered chair into a vehicle
- rooftop hoists that lift a manual chair up and on to the roof of a car
- racks that carry a wheelchair on the back of a car
- trailers and ramps
Driving after a stroke
Effects of a stroke
A stroke can damage any part of your brain. The effects - which can be temporary or permanent - vary hugely, depending on which part is affected and how extensive the damage.
Physical effects commonly include weakness down one side of the body, affecting your arm, leg or both. Car adaptations can often overcome these problems, for instance letting you drive one-handed - see the Car controls guide for details of the products that may help. Limb spasms can be controlled by medication, and cars can be adapted so these won't affect the pedals. Only in severe cases will these stop you driving.
Sight can be affected by a stroke. Some eye conditions recover over time, or you may learn to adapt to them - the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will decide if this means that you can resume driving. To drive, you must be able to read a standard-size number plate (with glasses or lenses if necessary) from 20.5 metres (67 feet) or 20 metres (65 feet) where narrower characters are used. If your visual field is restricted, you'll need specialist assessment to check that it meets DVLA requirements. If it doesn't, you won't be able to drive.
Speech and language problems shouldn't prevent you driving unless you have difficulty following road signs or learning to use adaptations.
A stroke can affect concentration, judgement, speed of thought, memory, perception and attention. These often improve over time and may clear completely. You need to be able to react quickly and to act logically when driving. If you can't, you may have to give up driving. A Mobility Centre can carry out a full assessment of your skills and advise on driving safely.
You must not drive a car for at least a month after a stroke. If your GP is happy that you've made a full recovery, you can return to driving, but if you have ongoing problems, you must tell the DVLA. You must also tell them about any other medical conditions, such as epilepsy or diabetes. If fits are controlled by medication, you won't be licensed to drive until you have been free of fits for a year, not counting any epileptic attacks you had within 24 hours of the stroke. You'll probably be asked to complete a questionnaire and to give the DVLA permission to contact your GP or hospital consultant for more information.
You may be:
- allowed to keep your full licence
- given a temporary licence for one, two or three years
- given a licence to drive only an automatic or a car with specialist controls (this will be coded on the licence)
- told by the DVLA to to take a driving test or go to a Mobility Centre for an assessment
You need to tell your insurance company of your stroke and of any special controls fitted to your car. And both the DVLA and your insurer need to be kept informed of any changes to your health or medication.
For further information on getting a driving licence, go to the DVLA website or get 'What you need to know about driving licences' (D100) from a post office.
Last updated: April 2012
Main page: Motoring with particular disabilities