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Concussions May Affect Driving Ability Even After Symptoms Pass: Study

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A concussion can still have an effect on driving ability even after all the symptoms disappear, according to research conducted at the University of Georgia's College of Education.

In the study, researchers tested participants using a driving simulator. They found that many participants were still likely to drive erratically even though they felt completely recovered from their concussion. In addition, some of the subjects appeared to drive similarly to someone who was under the influence of alcohol.

Concussion Should Prevent Patients From Driving

The research is the first to have taken a close look at the way a concussion affects people's capacity to drive. It was published in the journal Neurotrauma, and it involved 14 participants of college age. All of the subjects had suffered a concussion, and all of them were within the following 48 hours of not having had any symptoms.

According to Julianne Schmidt, associate professor at the UGA and the lead author of the study, concussion research generally addresses the effects of the injuries on athletes. Additionally, before players who suffered a concussion can return to playing, they have to go through a series of tests that evaluate their brains' functions.

"Post-concussion impairments may result in unsafe driving performance, but little research is available to guide consensus on when concussed individuals should return to driving. The purpose of this study was to compare driving performance between individuals with and without a concussion and to explore relationships between neuropsychological and driving performance," noted the research.

At the same time, people can have a concussion and drive home from the hospital, as previous studies have never questioned the patients' ability to drive safely. Driving under this circumstance is dangerous, according to the researchers, as the same injury prevents patients from playing sports safely.

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

While the current research suggests that people who have had a concussion should not be allowed to drive at least until there are no symptoms left, little is known about the moment when the abilities come back to their normal levels. Future research will focus on answering this question and coming up with guidelines that will help determine the situations in which driving should be restricted for medical reasons.

Concussions, Mostly Caused By Falls

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) accounted for approximately 2.5 million visits to the emergency room in the United States in 2010, either alone or combined with other injuries. At the same time, TBIs have contributed to the death of more than 50,000 people, according to the CDC.

Concussions are a milder form of TBI, but their effects can still significantly impact people's abilities to perform different tasks. In 2009, more than 248,000 children (aged 19 or younger) were treated for recreation- and sports-related injuries that had concussions or TBIs as part of the diagnoses.

Most of the TBIs are caused by falls, which account for approximately 40 percent of the total number of TBIs, while approximately 14 percent were caused by motor vehicle traffic-related reasons, and 10 percent were caused by assault.

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