Read about the potential risks of driving with narcolepsy, and the precautions people with the condition can take to drive safely.
Staying alert and focused while driving can be difficult for people with narcolepsy. Dozing off, even for a moment, can mean drifting off the road or hitting another vehicle. While uncommon, experiencing cataplexy, or a symptom of narcolepsy that causes temporary loss of muscle control, while driving can cause a person to lose control of their vehicle entirely. These risks leave people with narcolepsy wondering if they can — or should — drive.
Unfortunately, current research on driving with narcolepsy is limited. However, the research that does exist highlights the risk of driving with narcolepsy. Studies have found that people with this condition are three to four times more like to get into a car accident, with more than half of individuals with narcolepsy reporting having fallen asleep while driving, and over one-third experiencing car accidents due to sleepiness.
While driving with narcolepsy is risky, it is possible to decrease the possibility of an accident with medical care and self-awareness. By seeking proper treatment for narcolepsy and understanding triggers and limits, many people with narcolepsy can practice safe driving behaviors. However, because driving laws for individuals with narcolepsy vary from state to state, it’s crucial that people with this condition be aware of local laws before driving.
If you live with narcolepsy, taking the following precautions before driving can also decrease the possibility of an accident occurring:
- Check in with yourself. Take a moment to evaluate how you are feeling. Are you awake and alert? Drowsy? If you are feeling tired, or don’t think that you’ll be able to maintain your focus for the duration of your drive, it’s best to find an alternative to driving.
- Get a second opinion from family and friends. Ask your family or friends for feedback about your current state. In many cases, other people can recognize signs of fatigue that you might not be aware of.
- Talk to your doctor. It’s crucial that you consult with a trusted physician before driving with narcolepsy. A doctor can use a series of tests to evaluate your risk of driving and provide you with the proper documentation needed to obtain a driver’s license in many states.
Division of Sleep Medicine Harvard Medical School. “Narcolepsy Safety.” February 21, 2018. Accessed February 20, 2019.
Narcolepsy Network. “Narcolepsy and Driving Laws.” (n.d.) Accessed February 20, 2019.
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