Epilepsy and driving

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?

There are many different types of epilepsy and driver's licences, so the NZ Transport Agency doesn’t apply one rule in all situations. Instead, anyone who has recently had even one seizure must check with their health practitioner before driving. The health practitioner could be your usual doctor (GP), a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, or a specialist if appropriate.

A single seizure doesn’t necessarily mean you have epilepsy, but it does mean you will need to stop driving for 12 months. In exceptional circumstances the 12-month stand-down period may be reduced if there is a clearly identified non-recurring cause for the seizure. The 12-month stand-down period can be reviewed in consultation with a neurologist and your health practitioner.

If you have a private driver's licence  

If you’re a private driver and don’t earn a living from driving, you are likely to be allowed to drive if your epilepsy is controlled and you haven't had any seizures in 12 months, but you still need to check with your health practitioner for more details.

If your epilepsy is uncontrolled, you must get medical advice to establish when it will be safe for you to resume driving. Epilepsy is considered uncontrolled when you:

  • have had seizures in the past 12 months
  • have had changes to your treatment and the new treatment has to be monitored for a period of time to assess its impact
  • don’t take your medication to prevent seizures.

If you have a heavy vehicle licence

If you have a history of epilepsy you will not be able to get some types of licence classes, such as P, V, I or O endorsements and heavy vehicle licence classes.

Note: Febrile convulsions in childhood, which stopped before the age of 5 years, do not count as a history of epilepsy.

Other conditions that increase your risk of epilepsy

You are at increased risk of getting epilepsy if you have had a severe head injury that caused unconsciousness or loss of memory, or if you have had a brain tumour. In these circumstances you must stop driving until you have consulted a neurologist about your fitness to drive.

Precautions while driving

If you have epilepsy and have been cleared to drive by your health provider, there are some important things to do and know.

Changes to your medication

When you change or stop your anti-epileptic medication, stop driving until a health practitioner confirms that you’re safe to do so. Also be aware that some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause reactions that may make it unsafe to drive. In New Zealand it is against the law to drive while impaired (affected by something that may make you drive less well). Read more about medicines and driving.

Take care when drinking alcohol

Don’t drive sooner than 12 hours after even one drink of alcohol. There is a danger period after drinking alcohol that is greatest when your blood alcohol level has fallen to near zero. It isn’t safe for you to drive for 12–24 hours following even moderate alcohol consumption, or longer if you’ve had more to drink.

Other tips

  • Check that your insurance policies are valid. Tell your insurer of your condition.
  • If your work is going to involve driving, tell your employer of your condition.
  • If you have a seizure for the first time in years, stop driving and consult your health practitioner.
  • Also see your doctor if you have sleep epilepsy and suddenly have a seizure while you're awake.
  • You are more likely to have a seizure when you’re overtired or ill.

References

  1. Epilepsy/seizures and driving NZ Transport Agency
  2. Neurological and related conditions NZ Transport Agency
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.