In our active world, driving allows personal freedom, control and independence. Many people own a vehicle and drive regularly to work, errands and social activities.
However, driving is a complex skill. If you have Parkinson’s disease, your ability to drive safely may be affected by changes in your physical, emotional and mental conditions. It is normal to worry about how you will accomplish daily tasks if a medical professional (like your neurologist) says you are unsafe to drive.
If you or someone you know is facing driving challenges, the following tips can help you take control of your transportation needs.
How can Parkinson’s affect my driving?
- Parkinson’s can cause your arms, hands or legs to shake, even when you are relaxed. It can also make it harder for you to keep your balance or start to move when you have been still.
- If you have Parkinson’s and you try to drive, you may not be able to:
- React quickly to a road hazard;
- Turn the steering wheel, use the gas pedal or push down the brake.
- In addition to the symptoms of PD, many PD medications can reduce your ability to drive safely. For example common medications - including carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), amantadine, dopamine agonists and anticholinergics - may produce side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision and confusion. However, not every patient experiences these side effects, and they may be decreased with simple adjustments to medication. You should note any changes and report these to your physician.
Can I still drive with my PD?
Most likely yes, in the early stages and if you take medicines that control your symptoms. Staying fit and active will help maintain the muscle strength you need to drive. Here are some other options to help you maintain optimal driving safety:
- Eliminate distractions when driving. Listening to the radio, talking on a cell phone or eating/drinking while driving all affect concentration and reduce safety.
- Avoid nighttime driving if you have vision changes in reduced light settings.
- Choose familiar, comfortable routes and non-peak hours for driving. Consider a GPS system for directions.
- Do not drive when you feel fatigued or that your medications are wearing off.
- Maintain good posture. Try a lumbar support cushion to reduce back strain.
- Do regular stretching exercises for neck and trunk so you can be more mobile when backing up or watching for traffic and other obstacles.
- Consider taking a defensive driving course. AAA, AARP and other agencies offer these classes. You might also get lower auto insurance premiums for taking it.
Download "On the Road: Keeping Driving Skills Sharp" from the PD Library.
How do I know if I can drive safely?
- Ask a trusted friend or family member to provide honest input about your driving skills.
- Take an assessment through your local DMV.
- Your doctor may recommend that you get assessed by a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS). These professionals can give you on- and off-road tests to see if, and how, your Parkinson’s is affecting your driving. The specialist may offer training to improve your driving skills if your Parkinson’s still allows you to drive safely. To find a DRS near you, call the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists at 800-290-2344 or check the directory.
- Watch Driving with Parkinson's 1 and Driving with Parkinson's 2 from the DriveWise program produced by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, an NPF Center of Excellence. Ask about any similar programs at hospitals, driving schools, rehabilitation facilities and state motor vehicle departments in your area.
What can I do if I have to reduce my driving?
If you have to cut back on or give up your driving, you can still keep your independence. It just takes planning.
- Consider taking public transportation such as a bus, subway or train. There is often a reduced fee for bus passes for the elderly and people with disabilities. Call your local public transportation office to get information on discounts and find out what routes to take.
- If you can afford it, you can take a taxi, especially for quick or spontaneous errands.
- Ask family and friends to drive you. Maybe one person is willing to take you on a weekly trip to the grocery store, and another might volunteer to pick up your medications from the pharmacy.
- If you live in an independent or assisted living facility, there is probably a van available to take you to appointments if you reserve in advance.
- Sometimes there are special shuttle/van services for people with disabilities. Check with your local city/town government and the local community center.
- If you belong to a religious organization, such as a church or synagogue, they may have a committee of volunteers who drive community members to different destinations. Contact your local religious organization to find out.
Who can I call for help with transportation?
- Easter Seals Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation In Our Nation): 800-659-6428
- Eldercare Locator: 800-677-1116