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When Can You Return To Drive After Surgery or Injury Treatment?

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Updated March 24, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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When can you return to driving after surgery?

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Question: When Can You Return To Drive After Surgery or Injury Treatment?
Driving a vehicle has become a necessity for most people. Without being able to drive, many cannot get to work, attend their therapy, or make follow-up appointments with their doctor. So after an injury or after a surgery, when is it safe to return to drive? Can you drive with a splint or cast? What about medications affecting your ability to drive? And is your doctor the right person to ask about returning to drive?
Answer: Determining when it is safe to return to driving should depend on several factors.
  • First, are you risking damage to a recent surgery or treatment by driving? If you need to protect a body part with immobilization, or if you cannot bend a joint, then you probably cannot drive. Driving involves specific movements that need to be easily accomplished before you can return behind the wheel. Your doctor can tell you when it is safe for you to drive a vehicle from this standpoint.

  • Second, you need to ensure that you can operate a vehicle safely, and respond to unpredictable situations appropriately. Studies have shown that even wearing a simple wrist splint can significantly impair your ability to control a vehicle, and reaction times folloing ACL surgery are impaired for several weeks.

Technically, physicians cannot make determinations regarding the safe operation of a vehicle. A doctor cannot "clear" or "release" you to drive a car. Your doctor can recommend if operating a vehicle is unsafe, but he or she should not make a legal determination of when it is safe to drive again. The only way to make this determination is to take a test with an appropriately trained licensing authority.

Patients should not be driving if they:

  • Are wearing a device (splint, cast, brace, etc.) that limits joint mobility

  • Are taking narcotic pain medication, or other medications that may cause drowsiness

Once your doctor has determined you are ready to retest your driving ability, you should contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to re-examine your driving skills. These departments will offer specialized retesting for individuals who have sustained injury or undergone surgery to ensure safe vehicle operation.

Sources:

Chen V, et al. "Driving After Musculoskeletal Injury" The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (American). 2008;90:2791-2797.

Pollack P. "Wearing arm splint affects driving ability" AAOS Now. Vol 4, No 1. January 2010. Page 11.

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