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Driving Safely Following Injury or Surgery

Adapted from NYTimes.com.

Driving is one of the many functions that we perform with little effort yet has a huge impact on our safety. It you think about it, though, you will notice  the many joints and muscles you must engage before you even start the car: fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, head, ankle, knee, and hip.

Following injury or surgery, a natural question surfaces: When is it safe to resume driving?

The short answer is: There are no widely accepted timeline.

For patients who must wear casts, slings, neck collars or fracture boots, and for patients recovering from a sprain, fracture, or surgery,  the ability to steer, glance at mirrors and brake safely can be seriously impaired.

Immobilization of either arm in a splint or sling significantly impairs driving ability. Patients should not drive if the wrist, elbow, or shoulder are immobilized, be it  a cast, splint, sling, or an immobilizer.

Patients should not drive if they are in enough pain to impair their ability to steer or respond to sudden events while driving. Patients should also not be driving if they require narcotics for pain control as narcotics affect the patient’s ability to make proper and timely decisions, as well as execute them quickly.

A lot of studies focus on the ability to drive following lower extremity injury or surgery. They focus on how long it takes to make an emergency stop. Braking function returns to normal four weeks after right knee arthroscopy, nine weeks after surgery for an ankle fracture, and six weeks after the patient can walk unencumbered after a fracture of a major lower-body bone.

When the patient feels ready to resume driving, it’s best that to practice in a parking lot or low traffic area and determine how much comfortable he/she is to drive around other people. It is also a good advice to do resume driving in good weather and during daytime until the patient is comfortable handling emergent situations.

Unfortunately, many patients dismiss the advice and return to driving earlier than what is considered safe.


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