Teens Often Get Behind The Wheel Too Soon After A Concussion: Study

The findings of a new study suggest teen drivers often get behind the wheel too soon after suffering a concussion, indicating they may pose an accident risk due to potential visual impairments and neurological deficits which could still surface following a head trauma.

In a report published this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania warn that nearly half of teens who suffered a head injury reported operating a motor vehicle within two weeks after suffering a concussion.

The study involved a review of data from the Minds Matter Concussion Registry, which includes information on adolescents ages 16 to 19 who were diagnosed with a concussion within 28 days of injury, and were seen between January 31, 2017, and August 31, 2018. On average, teens were seen 12 days after being injured, and researchers focused on post-injury driving behaviors among 332 teen drivers.

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Overall, 47% of teens who suffered a head injury returned to driving within two weeks of suffering a concussion. Of those who returned to driving, nearly 60% said they were “Driving with No Changes,” which indicates they returned to operating a motor vehicle without taking any precautions as a result of the head trauma..

Other teen drivers who suffered injuries made changes to driving habits, such as limiting the number of trips, limiting the distance they drove, or avoiding driving at night when vision is impaired.

Research indicates teens who suffer concussions may experience symptoms for months following the injury and suffer a lower quality of life. They also face a higher risk of committing suicide.

Of the teens driving without making changes, a doctor assessed them and recommended three-quarters of the teens should have cognitive rest or return to school with accommodations. This indicates they may have needed more time to recuperate before returning to driving.

The data found 28% of teens who returned to driving also returned to exercise. Roughly 11% had returned to playing an organized sport, which can put them at risk for suffering an additional head injury, and nearly 80% had returned to school.

Only 9% of these teens were cleared by doctors to return to full school days. Instead, doctors recommended full rest.

“Many adolescents continued to drive after concussion, despite not yet having returned to exercise or sport,” the study’s authors wrote. “Nine of 10 were advised to return to school with accommodations to begin a gradual increase in cognitive activity, suggesting a gradual increase in driving may be justified.”

Research indicates children who suffer concussions often experience vision, balance and sleep problems. These are all issues that can impair driving and affect decision making. In fact, concussions reduce the blood flow to the brain for days following the injury. It is especially important for teens to receive proper rest following a head injury.

More than 1.9 million children sustain concussions each year and half of those are suffered by teens. Concussion can lead to vision and neurological impairments. They can also affect the ability to assess the visual scene, process environmental risks and engage in complex tasks; all of which can also increase the risk of car crashes.


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