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Driving with Epilepsy

In most provinces in Canada, a person can apply for a driver’s licence if he is 16 years old or more. Getting a licence usually involves passing one or more written and practical tests and taking a vision test. Some provinces, including Ontario, have a graduated licensing system in which a new driver earns full driving privileges in stages.

A person applying for a driver’s licence must also be considered medically fit to drive. In Canada, a person is required by law to report to their provincial ministry of transportation any health problems, such as epilepsy, that might interfere with their safe driving. In some provinces, physicians are also required by law to report anyone with a medical condition that could impair their driving. Before applying for a licence, check the rules concerning driving in your province or state with the appropriate authority, such as the Ministry of Transportation.

Driving authorities will ask the person's doctor for a report of his condition. This will be reviewed by a medical board, which will make a recommendation about his eligibility for having a driver’s licence. Depending on the recommendation, the license office may grant him a licence.

In Ontario, a person with epilepsy is usually eligible for a driver’s licence if he has been seizure-free (on or off medication) for the past one year, has no side effects of medication that would impair driving, and is under regular medical supervision. Other aspects that may work in the person's favour are if:

  • his seizures have only occurred during sleep or upon awakening for at least the past five years
  • his seizures or medication do not impair his consciousness or make him drowsy
  • his seizures or medication do not impair his coordination and muscle control
  • he has had a seizure in the last year, but it was the result of a medication change or missed pill

Driving safely is a serious responsibility for anyone with a licence. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you have a seizure, stop driving immediately and do not drive again until you have seen your doctor.
  • Take your medications regularly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If your medication has recently been changed, wait to see its effects and side effects before you drive.
  • If your doctor is tapering or discontinuing your medication, you should not drive during this period.
  • Make sure you are in good condition before you drive. Do not drive if you are too hungry, too tired, or too sleepy. Sleep deprivation can sometimes bring on seizures.
  • Always avoid alcohol before driving. It not only impairs driving but may bring on a seizure.

If it is not safe to drive, other options include walking, taking public transport, asking a friend for a ride, car-pooling, or taking taxis.

Car insurance

As long as a person has a valid driver’s licence, he should be able to get car insurance. Car insurance rates are based only on the car he drives and his driving record. An insurance company cannot charge more for car insurance based on health status, nor can it ask about health status as a condition for coverage. A person with epilepsy is not required to disclose his health condition to his insurance company.

However, driving while a driver’s licence is suspended for any reason, including a medical suspension, is illegal. It will probably also result in the person’s insurance coverage being revoked.

Irene Elliott, RN, MHSc, CNS/NP

Janice Mulligan, MSW, RSW