Epilepsy and driving

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Epilepsy and driving is a personal and safety issue. A person with a seizure disorder that causes lapses in consciousness may be putting the public at risk from their operation of a motor vehicle. Not only can a seizure itself cause an accident, but anticonvulsants often have side effects that include drowsiness. People with epilepsy are more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than people who do not have the condition, although reports range from minimally more likely up to seven times more likely. [1] [2] [3]


It is for this reason that most people diagnosed with epilepsy are prohibited or restricted by their local laws from operating vehicles. However, most places have exceptions built into their laws for those who can prove that they have stabilized their condition. Individuals who may be exempt from such restrictions or may have fewer restrictions include those who suffered seizures as a result of a medical condition that has been cured, from a physician's experimental medication change that failed, as an isolated incident, whose seizures occur only while asleep, or who may be able to predict their seizures in order to ensure that they do not lose consciousness behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. After having one during the day they must wait 180 days to get their license back.

The first seizure-related automobile crash occurred at the turn of the 19th century. [4] Since then, laws have been enacted all over the world regarding driving for people with epilepsy. There is an ongoing debate in bioethics over who should bear the burden of ensuring that a person with epilepsy does not drive a car or fly an aircraft.


Some countries prohibit people who have ever had a seizure from driving. In these countries, it is common for people with epilepsy to hide their condition from authorities in order not to be denied a driver's license. [5] Other places allow those who have had seizures to drive after a seizure-free period, which ranges from six months to a year. EU (European Union) harmonisation of periods of freedom from seizure means the periods shown below for EU states is wrong - now 6 months for an isolated seizure, 12 months for a second or more seizures within 5 years, whether or not antiepileptic drugs are taken. For drivers of heavy lorries and buses the seizure-free period is five years without drugs.

Epilepsy driving laws by country

United States

In the U.S., people with epilepsy can drive if their seizures are controlled with medication or other treatment and they meet the licensing requirements in their state. How long they have to be free of seizures varies in different states, but it is most likely to be between six months to a year. [22] [23] In 44 of the 50 states, the burden is placed on patients to report their condition to appropriate licensing authorities so that their privileges can be revoked where appropriate. Six states place the burden of reporting on the patient's physician. [24] After reporting is carried out, it is usually the driver's licensing agency that decides to revoke or restrict a driver's license.

Restrictions on operating a commercial vehicle are often stricter than those for a private automobile. Federal law in the United States prohibits people with epilepsy from operating a commercial vehicle across state lines, even if seizures are controlled. [25]

Studies have shown that in states where drivers are required to report their own condition, about 1/3 of licensed drivers comply with this law. The most recent trend adopted by many states allows those who have been seizure-free for 90 days to drive. This leniency has been passed with the hope that drivers will be more willing to report their health conditions.

Laws by state


The following are the driving laws for people with epilepsy in each province/territory of Canada:

Laws by province

ProvinceLawPhysician required to reportSeizure-free period
Alberta Those who have daytime seizures are barred from driving for 3 months. Driving is then permitted if seizures are prevented by medication and/or there are no reoccurrences.yes3 months
British Columbia No law specified for non-commercial driver's on site. Commercial drivers may be prohibited.No6 months
Manitoba Yes6 months
New Brunswick Yes
Newfoundland and Labrador Yes
Northwest Territories Yes
Nova Scotia
Ontario Persons with a Seizure Disorder May Drive in Ontario, if [26]
  • Febrile convulsions were limited to early childhood
  • seizures were a result of a toxic illness which is now completely cured
  • seizures are prevented by medication, the person has been free of seizures for 6 months, and medication does not cause drowsiness or poor co-ordination
  • the person has had a solitary seizure which cannot be related to a toxic illness and has provided a full neurologic examination revealing no epileptiform activity
  • the person has had seizures only during sleep or immediately upon awakening (nocturnal seizures) for at least 5 years
  • the person has been seizure free on medication for 1 year and seizures recur because of cessation or alteration of medication on their physician's instructions.
Yes6 months
Prince Edward Island Yes
Quebec Yes6 months as of February 2010
Yukon Yes


In India, people with epilepsy are not permitted to drive. The document puts the onus on both applicant to reveal if the person suffers loss of consciousness due to any cause and medical practitioner to provide a certificate that the applicant, to the best of the professional's judgment, suffers from epilepsy, vertigo or any mental ailment likely to affect driving ability. [27]


While most places allow people with their seizures under control to drive a car, laws regarding the operation of an airplane generally are much more strict. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration often prohibits anyone with epilepsy from being issued a pilot's license, even if the seizures are controlled by a medication or have completely ceased. The only epilepsy patients who may be issued a license are those who have had seizures during childhood, but have been seizure-free since, and have a normal EEG. Those with Rolandic seizures may be allowed to fly if they are seizure-free for at least four years. Children who have suffered a febrile seizure prior to the age of five may fly if they are off of all seizure medication for at least three years. Regardless, all medical records must be submitted to the FAA. [28]

As of 2017, normally, if a person is taking medications for epilepsy, and is free of seizures for five full years, and wishes to obtain a pilot's license for a large aircraft, including any jet, they must then work with their physician and neurologist to wean themselves, and go off the medications. Once the medications have been stopped, if they remain seizure-free for another five full years, they may apply. In any case, the full medical records are reviewed by the FAA, who has the final call and the sole discretion to make modifications and exceptions (Interview with representative of FAA at General Wayne Downing Peoria International Airport).

Accidents caused by a seizure while driving

A study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that fatalities caused by seizures that occurred while driving were relatively rare, resulting in less than 0.2% of all traffic-related fatalities in the years 1995-97. [29]

In March 2002, a Frederick, Maryland man was charged with vehicular manslaughter after a seizure he had while operating a motor vehicle resulted in an accident that killed four people. [30] The man had been using a nerve stimulating device to treat his epileptic condition rather than seeking medical treatment. [31] He had been using this home remedy out of fear that if he had reported his condition to a physician, he would be stripped of his license.

An Essex, UK man was jailed for an accident he caused on April 18, 2008, that killed a female pedestrian. He had already been ordered by a judge not to drive. His sentence was 8 years, and he was disqualified from driving for 10 years. [32]

A 28-year-old Halethorpe, Maryland woman was sentenced to 30 weekends in jail in April 2009 after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter stemming from a fatal 2007 crash. The woman was also sentenced to 10 months of home detention, five years of supervised probation, during which time she may not drive a car, and a 10-year suspended prison sentence. [33]

In Galway, Ireland, a 41-year-old man with a lifelong history of epilepsy was jailed for 7 years and disqualified from driving for 20 years for causing the death of two baby sisters on October 21, 2012. [34]

Related Research Articles

Epilepsy Group of neurological disorders causing seizures

Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by recurrent epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures are episodes that can vary from brief and nearly undetectable periods to long periods of vigorous shaking due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. These episodes can result in physical injuries, either directly such as broken bones or through causing accidents. In epilepsy, seizures have a tendency to recur and have no immediate underlying cause. Isolated seizures that are provoked by a specific cause such as poisoning are not deemed to represent epilepsy. People with epilepsy may be treated differently in various areas of the world and experience varying degrees of social stigma due to their condition.

Seizure Period of symptoms due to excessive or synchronous neuronal brain activity

A seizure, formally known as an epileptic seizure, is a period of symptoms due to abnormally excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain. Outward effects vary from uncontrolled shaking movements involving much of the body with loss of consciousness, to shaking movements involving only part of the body with variable levels of consciousness, to a subtle momentary loss of awareness. Most of the time these episodes last less than two minutes and it takes some time to return to normal. Loss of bladder control may occur.

Epilepsia partialis continua is a rare type of brain disorder in which a patient experiences recurrent motor epileptic seizures that are focal, and recur every few seconds or minutes for extended periods.

Lennox–Gastaut syndrome Medical condition

Lennox–Gastaut syndrome (LGS) is a complex, rare, and severe childhood-onset epilepsy. It is characterized by multiple and concurrent seizure types, cognitive dysfunction, and slow spike waves on electroencephalogram (EEG). Typically, it presents in children aged 3–5 years and can persist into adulthood. It has been associated with several gene mutations, perinatal insults, congenital infections, brain tumors/malformations, and genetic disorders such as tuberous sclerosis and West syndrome. The prognosis for LGS is poor with a 5% mortality in childhood and persistent seizures into adulthood (80%–90%).

Landau–Kleffner syndrome (LKS)—also called infantile acquired aphasia, acquired epileptic aphasia or aphasia with convulsive disorder—is a rare childhood neurological syndrome.

Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) are events resembling an epileptic seizure, but without the characteristic electrical discharges associated with epilepsy. PNES fall under the category of disorders known as functional neurological disorders (FND), also known as conversion disorders. A more recent term to describe these events is dissociative non-epileptic seizures. These are typically treated by psychologists or psychiatrists.

Temporal lobe epilepsy Chronic focal seizure disorder

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is a chronic disorder of the nervous system characterized by recurrent, unprovoked focal seizures that originate in the temporal lobe of the brain and last about one or two minutes. TLE is the most common form of epilepsy with focal seizures. A focal seizure in the temporal lobe may spread to other areas in the brain when it may become a focal to bilateral seizure.

Frontal lobe epilepsy (FLE) is a neurological disorder that is characterized by brief, recurring seizures that arise in the frontal lobes of the brain, often while the patient is sleeping. It is the second most common type of epilepsy after temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), and is related to the temporal form by the fact that both forms are characterized by the occurrence of partial (focal) seizures. Partial seizures occurring in the frontal lobes can occur in one of two different forms: either simple partial seizures or complex partial seizures. The symptoms and clinical manifestations of frontal lobe epilepsy can differ depending on which specific area of the frontal lobe is affected.

Epilepsy Society

The Epilepsy Society is the largest medical charity in the field of epilepsy in the United Kingdom, providing services for people with epilepsy for over 100 years. Based in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, UK, its stated mission is "to enhance the quality of life of people affected by epilepsy by promoting research, education and public awareness and by delivering specialist medical care and support services." The Epilepsy Society has close partnerships with the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) and the UCL Institute of Neurology, both located in Queen Square, London.

Epilepsy surgery involves a neurosurgical procedure where an area of the brain involved in seizures is either resected, disconnected or stimulated. The goal is to eliminate seizures or significantly reduce seizure burden. Approximately 60% of all people with epilepsy have focal epilepsy syndromes. In 15% to 20% of these patients, the condition is not adequately controlled with anticonvulsive drugs. Such patients are potential candidates for surgical epilepsy treatment.

Generalized epilepsy Epilepsy syndrome that is characterised by generalised seizures with no apparent cause

Generalized epilepsy is a form of epilepsy characterised by generalised seizures with no apparent cause. Generalized seizures, as opposed to focal seizures, are a type of seizure that impairs consciousness and distorts the electrical activity of the whole or a larger portion of the brain.

Post-traumatic epilepsy (PTE) is a form of acquired epilepsy that results from brain damage caused by physical trauma to the brain. A person with PTE suffers repeated post-traumatic seizures more than a week after the initial injury. PTE is estimated to constitute 5% of all cases of epilepsy and over 20% of cases of acquired epilepsy.

Post-traumatic seizures (PTS) are seizures that result from traumatic brain injury (TBI), brain damage caused by physical trauma. PTS may be a risk factor for post-traumatic epilepsy (PTE), but a person who has a seizure or seizures due to traumatic brain injury does not necessarily have PTE, which is a form of epilepsy, a chronic condition in which seizures occur repeatedly. However, "PTS" and "PTE" may be used interchangeably in medical literature.

There are many causes of seizures. The factors that lead to a seizure are often complex and it may not be possible to determine what causes a particular seizure, what causes it to happen at a particular time, or how often seizures occur.

Migralepsy is a rare condition in which a migraine is followed, within an hour period, by an epileptic seizure. Because of the similarities in signs, symptoms, and treatments of both conditions, such as the neurological basis, the psychological issues, and the autonomic distress that is created from them, they individually increase the likelihood of causing the other. However, also because of the sameness, they are often misdiagnosed for each other, as migralepsy rarely occurs.

Epilepsy can affect employment for a variety of reasons. Many employers are reluctant to hire a person they know has epilepsy, even if the seizures are controlled by medication. If the employee suffers a seizure while at work, they could harm themselves depending on the nature of the work. Employers are often unwilling to bear any financial costs that may come from employing a person with epilepsy, i.e. insurance costs, paid sick leave etc. Many people whose seizures are successfully controlled by a medication suffer from a variety of side effects, most notably drowsiness, which may affect job performance. Many laws prohibit or restrict people with epilepsy from performing certain duties, most notably driving or operating dangerous machinery, thereby lowering the pool of jobs available to people with epilepsy. Epilepsy sufferers are also prohibited from joining the armed forces, though they may work in certain civilian military positions.

Epilepsy is a condition defined by unprovoked or reflex seizures, often occurring without warning. The condition impacts much of a patient's life, including personal safety, memory, and views by others. Those who have active seizures live with the fact that they can have a seizure at any time. Those whose seizures are controlled by medication live with the underlying side effects and the need to remember to take the medication at the correct times.

Epilepsy is the most common childhood brain disorder in the United States. Nearly 3 million people have been diagnosed with this disease, while 450,000 of them are under the age of 17. Fortunately, two thirds of the child population will overcome the side effects, most notably, seizures, through treatment during adolescence. Epilepsy affects all ages groups. But for children, a variety of issues exist that can affect one's childhood.

Jet's Law is the first eponymous law to be created in the state of Queensland, Australia. It protects people from motorists who have a medical condition that may affect their ability to drive. The most common conditions reported are Epilepsy and Diabetes.

People with epilepsy may be classified into different syndromes based on specific clinical features. These features include the age at which seizures begin, the seizure types, and EEG findings, among others. Identifying an epilepsy syndrome is useful as it helps determine the underlying causes as well as deciding what anti-seizure medication should be tried. Epilepsy syndromes are more commonly diagnosed in infants and children. Some examples of epilepsy syndromes include benign rolandic epilepsy, childhood absence epilepsy and juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. Severe syndromes with diffuse brain dysfunction caused, at least partly, by some aspect of epilepsy, are also referred to as epileptic encephalopathies. These are associated with frequent seizures that are resistant to treatment and severe cognitive dysfunction, for instance Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and West syndrome.


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