For years, the medical community has been aware of the hazardous effects that a concussion can have on an individual. Though most popularly known as studied in the context of sports, researchers are making new life changing discoveries on concussions every day. An example of this can be seen with the NFL’s Concussion Protocol. In the past, head injuries were taken very casually, and players were told to shake them off and get back in the game as quickly as possible. Now, however, football players are required to pass special concussion protocol testing before they can return to the field. So if concussions are treated with such caution in the world of sports, why isn’t the same true for everyday life?
Concussions are a category of traumatic brain injury brought on when the brain crashes into the skull, usually as the result of a blow to the head or body. This blow could come in a car accident, especially if a victim’s head is jerked around after the impact. Symptoms of a concussion may appear right away or may take weeks to manifest, and they include headaches, memory loss, dizziness, and nausea. Concussions are generally graded into three categories, with the most severe being labeled Grade 3 and the most mild as Grade 1.
A new study shows that concussions may have lasting effects on an individual’s ability to drive, even after symptoms seem to disappear. The study followed 14 young adults who were 48 hours removed from symptoms following a concussion. The participants were placed in a driving simulation where researchers monitored their driving ability. Shockingly, the participants displayed clear signs of impaired driving, despite presenting no obvious symptoms of their concussion.
Participants studied showed less vehicle control and swerved more within the lane. At times, participants displayed driving abilities comparable to someone driving under the influence of alcohol. This is not entirely surprising, as alcohol consumption and concussions affect many of the same brain functions (i.e. coordination, memory, and vision).
What is surprising, though, is how little emphasis is placed on such a potentially dangerous activity. “We have very fine-tuned recommendations for when a concussed individual is ready to return to sport and the classroom, but we don’t even mention driving in our recommendations,” says Julianne Schmidt, who led this study. The juxtaposition is glaringly obvious. Following a concussion, athletes are required to pass a strict series of tests and procedures before they are allowed to play, but there are hardly any guidelines or rules governing when a person is fit to drive after a concussion.
Though the study fails to provide a hard and fast answer to the question of when a concussed individual is ready to drive, it does shed light on the issue. Concussions, unlike a broken bone, don’t always simply heal and disappear. Side effects can be seen well after symptoms pass and can impair one’s ability to drive. If you suspect you have suffered a concussion, doctors have advised one way to recover could be to rest. Medical professionals have also warned against doing any strenuous physical or mental activity.
If a driver sustains a concussion, gets behind the wheel, and then subsequently hits somebody, documentation of the head injury could be used to prove that driver’s liability in a lawsuit. In a Tennessee car accident case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving the case by a preponderance of the evidence, which is often interpreted as more likely than not. Under Tennessee law, a successful plaintiff will need to prove that the defendant driver owed him or her a duty to drive safely, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff sustained injuries or damages, and that those injuries or damages were caused by the defendant’s breach of the duty.