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Parkinson’s and Driving

A Parkinson’s diagnosis does not necessarily lead to the loss of your driver’s licence. Driving is often associated with freedom and independence. You can maintain your autonomy and the pleasure of driving for many years after your diagnosis.

For many people, driving a car is essential for most daily tasks: going to work, driving their kids around, going to appointments. Driving makes life easier but it is also a complex task that requires a combination of visual, cognitive and motor skills.

The skills necessary for driving can be affected by Parkinson’s disease. Your ability to drive safely may vary depending on the stage of your disease. In the early stages, it is entirely possible to keep driving safely. Certain procedures are required as soon as you receive your diagnosis.

You also need to prepare yourself and know how to identify and accept the moment you will need to stop driving. If your driving is no longer safe for you and others on the road, there are alternative means of transportation.

The law requires you to inform the SAAQ  of changes in your medical condition within 30 days of your visit to your neurologist.

Your doctor or a health care professional, such as an occupational therapist, will need to assess your ability to drive and fill out a medical examination report that you will need to send to the SAAQ.

Rest assured, very few drivers have their licence revoked after a medical assessment.

This evaluation will have to take place every two years or more depending on the development of your condition. Symptoms may become driving hazards as the disease progresses.

You must inform your car insurance of your Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Let them know what information your doctor gave you to help them determine the best coverage for your specific situation. Failure to inform your insurance company of your diagnosis could invalidate your insurance policy.

You also need to inform your insurer if any adaptations are made to your vehicle. Contact your car insurance provider to find out how to proceed. You can also shop around for insurance to compare coverage and prices.

Driving involves a combination of visual, cognitive and motor skills that may be affected by Parkinson’s disease.

Some symptoms, such as tremors, slow movements, rigidity, freezing or cognitive disorders may affect your ability to drive.

Your reaction time in response to complex road conditions can increase significantly, which can increase the risk of accidents.

Some antiparkinsonian medications can also have adverse effects that can affecton driving, such as drowsiness or insomnia.

You can continue driving during the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Enjoy it while you can still do it independently and safely. However, there are certain precautions you should take before driving:

  • Plan your route before you leave
  • Get behind the wheel when medication is most effective
  • Avoid driving during off periods
  • Avoid driving at night
  • Only drive when you are well rested
  • Remove distractions while driving, such as listening to the radio, eating or drinking, using a cell phone, even if it is hands-free, or talking to a passenger
  • Maintain good posture in order to be comfortable and have good visibility while driving
  • Stay fit and physically active to maintain good mobility, the fast reaction time needed to drive and your energy levels
  • Avoid highways that require you to drive fast
  • Limit your driving to short distances
  • Avoid driving in bad weather conditions
  • Do not drive if you are drowsy

An occupational therapist can help you develop an individualized plan to modify certain driving habits or implement assistive measures in your vehicle.

If your condition prevents you from being able to drive or get in and out of your vehicle safely and independently, you may be eligible for government financial aid.

If you have trouble walking short distances, you may be eligible for a parking permit for people with disabilities.

Talk to an SAAQ authorized health care professional. They will assess your situation and fill out the disabled parking permit application form  if necessary. You will then need to send the form to the SAAQ

The idea that you may one day have to stop driving can be difficult to accept, but being involved in an accident can have a serious impact on you and others.

You and your loved ones can monitor your driving and regularly assess whether you should stop.

Some signs that may be alarming:

  • Driving too slow
  • Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason
  • Non-compliance with road signs
  • Getting lost during a familiar route
  • Difficulty turning or changing lanes
  • Difficulty reading traffic signs or seeing traffic lights in time to react
  • Increased car insurance rate due to traffic violations or at-fault accidents
  • Problems responding to unexpected driving situations
  • Slow reaction to traffic lights
  • Several consecutive unsuccessful attempts to park the car
  • Tickets for traffic violations
  • Drowsiness at the wheel
  • Forgetting to put the car in park

The ability to drive is an important component of self-esteem and independence for many.

Your loved one may therefore get very emotional once approached about the progression of their driving. You can first acknowledge their good behaviours and then share your concerns without making them feel guilty.

You and your loved one can determine a transitioning schedule together based on the appearance of warning signs indicating that they should stop driving.

If your loved one shows resistance, talk about potential risks for them and others if they continue driving unsafely. Finally, talk about it with their care team to get help.

 

With time, you may no longer be able to drive. You can use alternative means of transportation such as:

  • Taxi
  • Carpooling with family members or friends
  • Public transportation
  • Driver services offered by volunteer centres
  • Taxi Coop services
  • Paratransit

You must meet the 2 following criteria:

  1. Have a disability
  2. Be incapable of :
  • Walking a 400 m distance on even ground;
  • Going up a 35 cm high step with support or going down a step without support;
  • Completing an entire trip using regular public transportation;
  • Orienting yourself in time or space;
  • Preventing situations or behaviours that may be detrimental to your own security or that of others;

To request access to paratransit, you need to contact your municipality’s paratransit services to obtain an application form. You will receive a written, justified response as to your eligibility within 45 days of receiving your completed form.

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