Many people worry about their ability to continue driving after receiving a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. Although numerous MS symptoms can affect a person’s driving ability, many people living with the condition continue to be safe drivers for years.
It’s important to understand how MS might affect your driving skills before you and your doctor decide if you should continue driving. Further, you should continually evaluate whether driving is safe, as well as what alternatives might be available.
Several different aspects of MS can affect a person’s ability to drive.
As one MyMSTeam member shared, cognitive problems can cause significant confusion: “Sometimes, I’ll be driving as usual, and the streets I’m on every day don’t look the same, and I don’t remember how to get where I’m going. My brain feels suddenly overwhelmed. This has happened on routes I have committed to memory. It’s not fun when I have to pull over to get directions from my phone to my own home.”
MS can reduce your reaction time. One MyMSTeam member wrote, “MS slows you down. I am doing everything at a much-reduced speed, including my driving. I stay off the road at peak times and drive at my own speed.”
Muscle spasticity can also affect your driving. If your muscles become stiff or spasm as a result of MS, you may be unable to enter or exit a vehicle. You may also be more likely to inadvertently jerk the wheel or step on the wrong pedal, which could be extremely dangerous.
MS symptoms may affect your vision, making it hard to see clearly while you’re driving. Blurred vision, loss of vision, or blind spots are all potential hazards when you’re behind the wheel.
Some MS medications may cause side effects, such as drowsiness, poor coordination, or problems focusing, all of which can make driving difficult or dangerous. When starting a new medication, ask your health care provider whether it might affect your driving ability.
Many people living with MS still drive, helping them maintain a sense of independence. One MyMSTeam member wrote, “If you are still driving, don't give up. Practice is important.”
Keep in mind, however, that some people with MS who continue driving experience significant physical impacts as a result. A MyMSTeam member described her experience as follows: “Now, if I have to make a trip of more than two hours, I get what feels like ‘car lag!’ I have no energy, massive cog fog, and the dumbest aches and pains EVER!”
If you can drive safely but feel fatigue or pain afterward, give yourself time to rest and explore ways to deal with your pain. Additionally, you may be able to modify your vehicle to make driving more comfortable.
Some people with MS successfully avoid exacerbating their symptoms by changing their driving habits. As one MyMSTeam member shared, “I still drive, but only locally for shopping, visiting, etc. I take the route of least resistance, even if it is a bit longer. I do the best when driving in the mornings, rather than later in the day when I'm beginning to wear down.”
If you use a wheelchair, it may be necessary to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that can accommodate it. Such vehicles can enable you to continue driving for longer. You can also purchase hand controls for the brake and gas pedals or specialized seats that make getting in and out of the vehicle easier.
Some countries and states may require you to undergo special testing and certification after receiving a diagnosis of MS. You will likely have to drive with an evaluator in the car to ensure you can focus and perform tasks such as changing lanes safely and obeying the rules of the road.
Some people with MS choose to stop driving entirely, either due to their MS symptoms or because they no longer feel comfortable behind the wheel.
As one MyMSTeam member shared, “As for driving, much to my sadness, I have pretty much stopped because I’m not only a risk to myself; I’m even more concerned about the other drivers and/or pedestrians.”
Another member encouraged people with MS to stop driving if their symptoms are making it too risky. A MyMSTeam member wrote, “Don’t drive if you are concerned about your driving ability. Just like if you’d had that extra drink at dinner or were taking antihistamines and got sleepy from them, don’t drive if MS is messing up your skills.”
Some people find that their MS symptoms make driving much less enjoyable, even if their driving ability is still high. One MyMSTeam member explained, “I used to love driving, but now, when I decide to drive, I really get exhausted for over two days, and I get huge headaches related to light — either sunlight or night UV light.” This MS fatigue can make driving more tiresome than it’s worth, pushing people to give up driving or to ask others for rides most of the time.
If you’re concerned about driving with MS, talk to a health professional. Specific tests are available to help you determine whether you can still drive safely and what continuing to drive with MS might look like for you.
Experts recommend you consider a few things when evaluating your driving ability, including:
If your answers to these prompts indicate a potential problem with your driving, it may be time to consider alternative means of transportation.
MyMSTeam is the social network and online support group for people living with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 187,000 people come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
How has living with MS affected your driving? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.