If you have a disability or health issue that causes you to suffer from pain or fatigue, your doctor may express concern about you driving. It is important to take this seriously as problems with your driving could place other people at risk as well as you. That said, most people with pain or fatigue find that they can drive safely a long as they take a few basic precautions.
The biggest danger of driving when in pain or fatigued is that you won’t be able to focus as well as usual. Fatigue can happen in waves, so you might feel that you can force yourself to concentrate only to discover too late that your concentration has lapsed. The police recommend keeping a caffeinated drink in your car in case of problems like this. You should never drink whilst at the wheel, but pull over and take a mouthful when you need to.
If you suffer from acute spasms of pain, you will need to think carefully about how much they might distract you and how you are going to manage when they happen. You might find, for instance, that you have to give up driving on motorways and in other situations where high speeds mean you can’t afford even brief distractions. Playing fast computer games is a good way to test how well you can ignore the pain.
If you suffer from chronic pain, bear in mind that some of the medication you are offered for it could make your drowsy and cause problems with your driving. If you find this is a problem, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives. Try to plan your driving so that you’re not at the wheel for too long in one stretch, because pain, like driving, takes a toll on your concentration.
Assessing your Condition
One of the problems with fatigue is that if you lapse into it gradually you may not notice it happening. If you are always a little bit tired you may think you are still well enough to drive, but how can you be sure?
The best way to test your alertness is to see how well you can perform at other simple tasks at different stages or tiredness. You might try solving a puzzle, reading a page of text and seeing how much you can remember, or adding long numbers together and then checking the results on a calculator. Test yourself this way before you set out and take breaks to do so again at least once per hour.
Some situations are easier to predict. Think about the times of day when your fatigue is worst (such as early mornings and late nights, or just after you’ve eaten) and try to avoid driving at those times. If you have to drive to work in the morning, having an early night and getting up earlier may mean you’re over the worst of your tiredness by the time you get behind the wheel.
Managing Long Journeys
When you have a long journey to make it’s important to be realistic about what you can do. Every driver gets tired by this sort of thing and nobody is at their best by the end of it. If there will be other people in the car, make sure they are sympathetic to your situation and know what they should and shouldn’t do to best support you.
Long journeys should always include plenty of breaks. If you are travelling on the motorway, look up the locations of service stations and convenient small towns in advance, and plan your route around them. Remember that you will usually feel better if you actually get out of the car and move around. Plenty of healthy snacks (especially fruit) will help, and you should take care to stay hydrated.
It’s important to accept that there are likely to be some occasions when you are simply not well enough to drive. It is always best to play it safe, and your family, friends and employers should respect that. Don’t blame yourself for letting people down when you’re doing the responsible thing. If you plan carefully your pain or fatigue need not mean the end of your driving life.