Driving allows personal freedom, control and independence. Many people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) continue to drive safely long after their diagnosis.
While Parkinson’s progression and medication side effects may affect a person’s driving ability, the diagnosis alone does not tell the whole story. Much depends on a person’s specific symptoms, as well as the presence of other age-related changes.
Though Parkinson’s may present driving challenges, there are many ways to maintain independence. If you are facing driving challenges, consider the following tips to help you take control of your transportation needs.
How can Parkinson’s affect my driving?
Driving is a complex skill. Parkinson’s-related physical, emotional and mental changes may affect your ability to drive safely.
- 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, push down on the gas pedal or brake.
- Many Parkinson’s medicines can also reduce your ability to drive safely. Common medications — including carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), amantadine, dopamine agonists and anticholinergics — may produce side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision and confusion. Not every person with PD experiences these side effects and they may be decreased by simple medication adjustments. Note any changes and report them to your physician.
Can I still drive with PD?
Most likely yes, in the early stages and if you take medicines that control your symptoms. Staying fit and active helps keep the muscle strength you need to drive. Here are some other options to help you maintain optimal driving safety:
- Eliminate driving distractions. Listening to the radio, talking on a cell phone, eating or drinking while driving all affect concentration and reduce safety.
- Avoid nighttime driving if you have vision changes in reduced light settings.
- Do not drive when you feel fatigued or your medication wearing off.
- Choose familiar, comfortable routes and non-peak driving hours. Consider a GPS system for directions.
- Maintain good posture. Reduce back strain with a lumbar support cushion.
- Do regular neck and trunk stretching exercises to increase mobility when backing up or watching for traffic and other obstacles.
- Consider taking a defensive driving course. AAA, AARP and other agencies offer these classes. It may also lower auto insurance premiums.
How do I know if I can drive safely?
- Ask a trusted friend or family member for honest input about your driving skills.
- Take an assessment through your local DMV.
- Your doctor may recommend a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist’s (DRS) assessment. These professionals give on- and off-road tests to see if, and how, PD affects your driving. The specialist may offer driving skill improvement training if you can still drive safely. Call the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists at 800-290-2344 or check the directory for a DRS near you.
- Watch the DriveWise® program’s Driving with Parkinson's 1 and Driving with Parkinson's 2, produced by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a Parkinson’s Foundation 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 must 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. Bus passes are often offered for a reduced fee to the elderly and people living 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, take a taxi, especially for quick or spontaneous errands.
- Ask family and friends to drive you. One person may be willing to take you to the grocery store weekly and another might volunteer to pick up your medications from the pharmacy.
- If you live in an independent or assisted living facility, there might be a van available to take you to appointments if you reserve in advance.
- Sometimes there are special shuttle or 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.