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A Concussion Can Hinder Driving After Symptoms Resolve

February 10, 2017

Study participants used a driving simulator within 48 hours of no longer feeling concussion symptoms. Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia College of Education's department of kinesiology.
Study participants used a driving simulator within 48 hours of no longer feeling concussion symptoms. Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia College of Education's department of kinesiology.

A concussion’s effects on driving performance can linger even after the victim no longer notices symptoms, according to a new study from the University of Georgia. 

The study found that even though participants felt like they had recovered from a recent concussion, they were still likely to drive erratically during driver simulator tests — sometimes in ways similar to drunk drivers. The study’s author was Julianne Schmidt, an associate professor in the UGA College of Education’s department of kinesiology.

The Journal of Neurotrauma recently published the research. The 14 study participants were all college age and had stopped feeling the effects of their concussion within the previous 48 hours.

“They had less vehicle control while they were doing the driving simulation, and they swerved more within the lane,” Schmidt said. “This is a pretty large indicator of motor vehicle accident risk, and this is at a time point when they are considered recovered.”

Past concussion research has largely focused on how the injury affects athletes, developing testing protocols to assess when injured athletes are fit to resume competing, and the long-term impact on brain function. The injury’s short-term impact on driving has largely been ignored.

“In athletics, we don’t restrict their driving before their symptoms resolve,” Schmidt said. “Often, people will get a concussion and drive home from the event or practice that caused the concussion — there are no restrictions there,” Schmidt said. “Whereas, we would never let them go out on the field or court; we’re very strict about that.”

Schmidt noted that the research has implications beyond the realm of athletics. 

“The driving simulation shows they are performing very differently on the road compared to people who are not concussed, even after such symptoms resolve,” she said.

Click here to download the study.

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