Behaviours – Health of Drivers

Medical Conditions

The sections of this page contain relevant information regarding health conditions and driving an automobile.

Arthritis

Arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.

Effects on driving

Arthritis can make the following actions more difficult:

  • Getting in and out of a vehicle
  • Putting the key in the ignition and turning it
  • Holding and turning the steering wheel
  • Buckling and unbuckling your seat belt
  • Looking over your shoulder to check blind spots
  • Looking left and right at intersections
  • Safely changing directions
  • Backing up
  • Using the pedals, especially at moments when it must be done quickly
  • Turning your head to keep an eye on other vehicles and road users

In addition, some arthritis medications may cause drowsiness and affect your alertness.

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with those close to you.
  • Consult your physician.
  • Find out about treatments that do not cause drowsiness.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Appropriate medical follow-up will help you control your symptoms and allow you to continue driving safely.

Your physician may also suggest that you consult an occupational therapist to have your ability to drive assessed. The occupational therapist may recommend that you adapt your vehicle or modify your driving habits.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Cataracts

Certain eye problems, such as cataracts, affect the elderly in particular. Cataracts appear gradually, slowly resulting in a loss of vision.

Effects on driving

  • Difficulty seeing signs, markings on the pavement, and other road users
  • Decreased twilight and night vision
  • Sensitivity to glare (sun, headlights and other lights)
  • Halos of light around light sources
  • Colours that seem dull or faded
  • Double vision
  • Sudden decrease in vision

What you must do 

  • Discuss the issue with those close to you.
  • Consult an eye specialist.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

A simple adjustment of your corrective lenses can improve your situation. Your eye specialist can also recommend cataract removal surgery.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Cognitive Disorders

Thousands of people suffer from cognitive disorders or dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. If this is the case for you or someone close to you, you should talk to your physician or another health care professional, who can explain the effects of these disorders on a person’s ability to drive.

Effects on driving

  • Difficulty with directions or learning new routes
  • Memory loss (forgetting the destination during a trip, getting lost)
  • Difficulty making safe turns, especially to the left
  • Poor judgment of the distance between vehicles
  • Inability to understand traffic lights and road signs
  • Difficulty staying at the centre of the lane (driving on lane markers)
  • Poor control of movements (difficulty using pedals or turning the steering wheel)
  • Inability to explain damage to the vehicle or objects around it (fence, mailbox, garage)
  • Inability to drive alone (requiring a passenger to give directions and explain what to do at the wheel)
  • Poor management of emotions (possibly affecting driving)

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with those close to you.
  • Consult with your physician as soon as possible.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Cognitive disorders can affect your ability to drive.

Your physician may also suggest that you consult an occupational therapist to have your ability to drive assessed. The occupational therapist may recommend that you adapt your vehicle or modify your driving habits.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Diabetes

With diabetes, the body has difficulty regulating blood sugar levels, sometimes resulting in levels that are too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Diabetes often requires medical treatment, especially when it comes to safety at the wheel.

Effects on driving

Diabetes can cause the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Impaired judgment and concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with your physician, as well as those close to you.
  • Follow your treatment plan.
  • DO NOT DRIVE if your blood sugar level is low.
    • Check your blood sugar level before hitting the road.
      • If it is low, eat or drink something that contains sugar, wait 15 minutes, then check it again.
      • If it has returned to normal, have a nutritious snack or a meal with protein.
    • Always have your glucometer with you, along with some snacks.
    • As soon as you start to feel symptoms, stop your vehicle in a safe location and check your blood sugar level. If it is low, follow the above steps.
    • Do not drive until your blood sugar level has returned to normal.
  • DO NOT DRIVE if your blood sugar level is high.
  • To help prevent eye problems:
    • Measure and control your blood sugar level.
    • Control your blood pressure.
    • Take care of your eyes.
    • Undergo a yearly eye exam.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Talk to your physician about driving and follow your treatment plan closely. Poorly controlled diabetes can damage your nervous system and lead to complications (eye problems, loss of sensation) that affect your ability to drive. It may become difficult for you to feel your limbs and move them quickly, such as when you must brake suddenly in order to avoid an accident.

Your physician may also suggest that you consult an occupational therapist to have your ability to drive assessed. The occupational therapist may recommend that you adapt your vehicle or modify your driving habits.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Epilepsy

Epilepsy is the disease most likely to cause accidents, as it is impossible to predict when a seizure will happen. However, when it is properly controlled, epilepsy does not prevent a person from driving. As a preventative measure, the SAAQ requires that licence holders not have had any seizures for a certain period of time before they can drive. The length of this period depends on each person’s licence class and type of epilepsy.

If you have epilepsy, you must notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Effects on driving

An epileptic seizure at the wheel, whether or not convulsions occur, can seriously compromise safety, as the person loses contact with reality. This is the case even if the seizure only affects one part of the body, as it can be a major distraction at the wheel.

What you must do

Many people with epilepsy feel warning signs of an epileptic seizure. If these signs appear, you must:

  • safely stop the vehicle at the side of the road as quickly as possible;
  • if there are passengers, tell them as soon as you feel the seizure coming on.

It is important that those close to you be aware of the risk of seizure and know how to intervene.

Continuing to drive

You must discuss driving with your physician or nurse. It is important to closely follow the treatment plan given to you by your physician.

After each new seizure, you must stop driving until you see your physician. He or she will submit the necessary information to the SAAQ and inform you of the next steps to take.

If you have previously experienced epileptic seizures, it is entirely possible for you to obtain or keep your licence. The SAAQ will determine the necessary procedures for your follow-up, depending on the type and frequency of your seizures.

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Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye problems that irreversibly damage the optic nerve, leading to blind spots in a person’s field of vision. Without appropriate treatment, glaucoma can lead to blindness.

Effects on driving

  • Gradual shrinking of the visual field
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty seeing signs, markings on the pavement, and other road users
  • Decreased twilight and night vision
  • Sensitivity to glare (sun, headlights and other lights)

People with glaucoma may not notice any symptoms during the first stages, but their vision generally worsens with time, eventually resulting in “tunnel vision”.

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with those close to you.
  • Consult an eye specialist.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Early screening is important. In the first stages, many people can continue to drive safely. Regular follow-up with an eye specialist will help you adjust to any changes resulting from glaucoma.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is a common eye issue among elderly drivers. It is the most common cause of acquired blindness among people aged 65 and older.

Effects on driving

  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Loss of central vision (seeing a black hole in the middle of your field of vision)
  • Difficulty seeing signs, markings on the pavement, and other road users
  • Requiring more light in order to see up close
  • Colours that seem dull or faded
  • Difficulty for the eyes to adjust when passing from light to dark
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with those close to you, especially if you have a family history of such conditions.
  • Consult an eye specialist as soon as possible.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Early screening is important. In the first stages, most people can continue to drive safely. However, loss of central vision is obviously incompatible with driving. Regular follow-up with an eye specialist and appropriate treatment will help you adjust and may prevent blindness.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disease affecting locomotion. It can appear at any age, but it is most common in people aged 60 or older. Parkinson’s disease interferes with activities of daily living, including driving.

Effects on driving

  • Slowness in moving and decoding and processing information
  • Difficulty paying attention to more than one thing at a time
  • Tremors, even at rest
  • Balance issues and falls
  • Muscle stiffness (having the impression of being stiff, having difficulty moving)

The following actions become more difficult:

  • Reacting quickly to unexpected events on the road
  • Handling the steering wheel
  • Using the brake or accelerator at moments when a quick reaction is necessary
  • Driving when it is dark, due to visual changes

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with your physician and those close to you.
  • Follow your treatment plan. Certain medications can make driving a vehicle more dangerous.
  • Stay active. Maintaining muscle strength helps you remain independent.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

In the first stages, certain drivers can continue to drive safely. Talk to your physician to learn more about controlling your symptoms, and their effect on road safety. Your physician may suggest that you consult with a neurologist.

Your physician may also suggest that you consult an occupational therapist to have your ability to drive assessed. The occupational therapist may recommend that you adapt your vehicle or modify your driving habits.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea results in brief interruptions in breathing during sleep. People with sleep apnea often experience drowsiness throughout the day. They may fall asleep at work, at home and even at the wheel.

Effects on driving

Sleep apnea can cause:

  • drowsiness that prevents drivers from reacting to changes in traffic or road conditions
  • increased risk of being involved in an accident, especially for professional drivers
  • difficulty concentrating and focusing on the road
  • depressed mood or irritability
  • difficulty analyzing and retaining information

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with your physician and those close to you.
  • Follow your treatment plan.
  • Avoid driving if you are not receiving treatment.
  • Exercise caution with over-the-counter products, which do not work.
  • Change your lifestyle habits: Avoid alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, and don’t smoke.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Appropriate medical treatment will allow you to continue to drive safely. Until you are certain that your treatment has stabilized your condition, avoid driving alone: have a passenger accompany you, so that they can ensure you stay awake.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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Stroke

A stroke is an interruption to the blood supply of the brain. The resulting lack of oxygen causes brain cells to die and damages the brain, often resulting in impairment that can be permanent. Stroke can change a person’s level of independence and affect his or her driving.

Symptoms

A stroke most often occurs suddenly and is accompanied by a set of symptoms that often includes:

  • Numbness or weakness in one side of the body, affecting the face, arms, or legs
  • Confusion and difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Visual disturbances affecting one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking, dizziness and loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe and unusual headaches

Effects on driving

The consequences of stroke vary from one person to another. They can include:

  • Inability to speak or think normally
  • Blurred vision or sudden loss of vision
  • Difficulty controlling movements (e.g.: difficulty walking in a straight line)
  • Temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis, affecting only one side of the body
  • Memory loss (forgetfulness), carelessness or confusion
  • Difficulty managing frustration, irritability
  • Loss of vision in half of the visual field
  • Visual neglect (the person is unaware of his or her surroundings on one side)
  • Hemispatial neglect (also called “one-sided neglect”: lack of awareness of one side of the body)

What you must do

  • Discuss the issue with those close to you.
  • Consult your physician.
  • Notify the SAAQ of your state of health.

Continuing to drive

Your physician will determine whether you can continue to drive safely, with or without conditions. It is dangerous to drive after a stroke without the consent of your physician.

Your physician may also suggest that you consult an occupational therapist to have your ability to drive assessed. The occupational therapist may recommend that you adapt your vehicle or modify your driving habits.

Even if you must limit your driving or relinquish your driver’s licence, you can still stay active and continue your normal activities.

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