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Driving after concussion: The acute effect of mild traumatic brain injury on hazard perception

16 June 2011

No previous research has examined whether individuals recovering from a recent minor head injury are safe to drive, despite cognitive impairment being a common consequence.

Image showing cards driving on a dual carriagewayThis study, published in the journal Neuropsychology in July 2010, examined the acute effect of minor head injury on drivers' hazard perception, which is defined as drivers' ability to search the road ahead to rapidly identify potentially dangerous traffic situations. Poorer hazard perception has been associated with higher crash rates in a number of studies.

42 patients with minor head injury and 43 patients with minor orthopaedic injuries were recruited from the Emergency Department of a large metropolitan hospital in Brisbane, Australia, within 24 hours of injury. Participants completed a computerised hazard perception test, in which they watched videos of genuine traffic scenes filmed from the driver's point of view. They were required to use the computer mouse to click on potential traffic hazards as early as possible.

It was found that participants with minor head injuries were significantly slower to respond to traffic hazards than participants with minor orthopaedic injuries. The research provides the first indication that, within the acute stage post-injury, minor head injury is associated with impairment in hazard perception while driving. This suggests that such patients should be advised not to drive for at least the first 24 hours post-injury. Refraining from driving until completely recovered is recommended in the NICE head injury guidelines, but many patients are not provided with this information, as was shown by Headway's survey of minor head injury discharge advice in 2010.

Reference

Preece, M., Horswill, M., & Geffen, G. (2010) Driving after concussion: The acute effect of mild traumatic brain Injury on drivers' hazard perception. Neuropsychology, 24 (4), 493-503.

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