Having uncontrolled epilepsy increases your risk of having an epileptic seizure while driving, which can place you and other road users at risk.
If I have epilepsy, am I legally allowed to drive?
If you have a private motor vehicle licence (Class 1 for a car or Class 6 for a motorcycle), you will have to stop driving for 1 year if you have a seizure.
This is regardless of how brief or small the seizure is, and whether or not it makes you unconscious. It includes the single jerking movements that you can get with some kinds of epilepsy.
However, if after having a single seizure there are no risk factors for you having another one, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) may let you return to driving after 6 months without any more seizures.
Your neurologist can apply to NZTA for this after the 6 months have passed.
Commercial or passenger licence
The regulations for a commercial or passenger licence (Class 2, 3, 4, 5 or ‘P’ endorsement) are different. You must be free of seizures for 5 years and not taking any anticonvulsant treatment (epilepsy medicine) during that time.
You will need approval from a neurologist before you can start driving again.
Withdrawing from anticonvulsant medicine
With all types of driver's licence, if you have been free of seizures for a number of years and are considering coming off your anticonvulsant medication, bear in mind that you won't be able to drive while withdrawing from the medicine and for 6 months afterward.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) tests
You may need to have an EEG for a number of reasons, eg, if you are being tested for epilepsy, if surgery is being considered or if medicines are being stopped. You may be asked to have a Sleep Deprived EEG, where you attend your appointment when you are short of sleep. While there are no direct side effects from the EEG itself, you should be very careful until you have had a chance to sleep properly as lack of sleep can make seizures more likely. Don't drive on the day of the test, and it is advisable that someone stays with you for the rest of the day until you have had a chance to sleep properly.
Medical aspects of fitness to drive NZ Transport Agency, 2014
EEG tests and epilepsy Epilepsy Action, UK, 2020
Professor Lynette Sadleir is a physician-scientist with expertise in epilepsy phenotyping. She is the Director of the Epilepsy Research Group, a group which is committed to improving the quality of life for individuals with epilepsy and their families.