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Autolija pitää taukoa ja venyttelee
Driving health and driving condition

Driving condition is a sum of many physical and mental factors that affect a driver’s ability to act safely in traffic. When you’re sleepy, stressed or have had a few drinks, you’re not fit to drive. Driving health is affected by illnesses and their treatments. Don’t drive if you are ill or feel strange, tired or disorientated.

Driving condition

Driving condition refers to a person’s current physical and mental state, which can be influenced by:

  • fatigue
  • intoxicants
  • high temperature (fever)
  • temporary medication
  • strong emotional reactions and stress.
  • fatigue
  • intoxicants
  • high temperature (fever)
  • temporary medication
  • strong emotional reactions and stress.

It is important that drivers assess whether they are fit to drive before driving. There are also certain provisions in section 17 of the Road Traffic Act which require that vehicles must not be driven by a person who does not have the necessary capabilities due to illness, defect, disability, fatigue or intoxication.

In other words, you should not drive if you feel strange, tired or disorientated.

How to take care of your driving condition

  • Make a habit of assessing your driving condition always before driving. Drive only when you are fit to drive. As a passenger you can observe the driving condition of the driver.
  • Avoid driving when tired. Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep the night before driving. If necessary, take a nap before driving. Note that some medicines such as antihistamines can make you drowsy.
  • Take a break often. Reserve time for breaks in your travel plan.
  • Avoid driving when ill. Emotional turmoil can also affect your driving capacity. For instance after an argument agitation can cause your attention to slip from the traffic. It is crucially important that if you are feeling stressed or upset, you never take it out on others on the road.
  • Don’t drink if you are driving. Remember that alcohol can affect your driving ability even the next day. Many medicines are not compatible with alcohol.

Exercise lightly during breaks

When driving or riding in a car, you sit in the same position for long periods of time. This has an impact on metabolism and the circulation of blood in the muscles. Lack of movement also impacts the muscles, your feet might swell up, and the neck and shoulder area can become stiff.

A short exercise session has an immediate positive effect: the brain is refreshed and your concentration and alertness improve. Watch the video for easy break exercises that are beneficial to take during every stop.

Driving health

Driving health can be affected by illnesses, lack of treatment, and also ongoing treatments. A change in driving health can occur suddenly or over a longer period of time, and it can impact fitness to drive temporarily or permanently. Here are some illnesses that can affect a person’s fitness to drive:

  • epilepsy
  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • memory disorders.

The difference between driving condition and driving health is not always clear. For example, fatigue may result from a temporary condition such as lack of sleep. And sometimes it can be caused by an illness such as sleep apnea.

The safety of driving should be considered, whenever there is a significant change in your own or a family member’s health, even in the case of a minor cerebral circulation disorder, heart disease or depression.

Driving health concerns all drivers

An individual illness with medication does not necessarily affect fitness to drive, but on the other hand, some medicines can have an unexpected impact on your driving. For example, many sedatives and sleeping drugs increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Every time starting any medical treatment, especially if prescribed a drug that you haven’t previously taken, you should pay attention to how it affects you and how does it make you feel. Extra vigilant should be with drugs that are labelled with the red warning triangle.

Driving health applies to drivers of all ages. Sudden disabling events at the wheel become a lot more common already in middle age. Chronic illnesses that have started in youth can cause affects later on and should thus be monitored. Issues relating to driving health can be factors in accidents even though the driver haven’t suffered any disabling event.

Medical professionals assess the fitness to drive

The impact of a person’s medical condition for safe driving ability is assessed by a physician. If the health requirements for a driving licence are not met, the physician has a duty to report a long-term deterioration in driving health (at least 6 months) to the driving licence authority, i.e. the police.

Driving health and fitness to drive are not assessed only in age-related medical examinations. A physician is always to assess the overall impact of illnesses and medicines on the safety of driving. The patient’s driving health should be examined in each patient encounter if the health condition so requires.

Nevertheless you should not avoid seeing a doctor out of fear of losing your licence. For drivers, many illnesses are more harmful when untreated than when treated correctly. With the right treatment it is also possible to avoid developing other conditions that could impact your fitness to drive. Medicines should be taken regularly and according to the physician’s instructions.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine when the illness is starting to affect the patient’s fitness to drive. Such cases require additional examinations and possibly a driving fitness test in actual traffic or in a closed setting.

Assessing fitness to drive

In Finland, driving fitness assessments are governed by law (in particular the Driving Licence Act and the Road Traffic Act), Directive 2006/126/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (Opens in a new window) and Traficom‘s guidelines for driving fitness assessments by health care professionals. 

In the case of temporary unfitness to drive lasting less than six months, the physician imposes a driving ban and records the information in the patient record. If the unfitness to drive is expected to last at least six months, the physician must also notify the police.

The Traficom driving licence information website (Opens in a new window)explains when a medical certificate is required when acquiring and renewing a driving licence.

The Finnish Traffic Medicine Association promotes physicians’ competencies in traffic medicine. Some university hospitals also have driving clinics that offer health care professionals consultation support in assessing challenging cases.

Monitor changes in driving health

The drivers themselves may not notice changes in their driving health. For example in memory disorders or slowly progressing eye disorders the driver often does not notice the gradual change. During an examination the situation may come as a surprise.

Intervene, if you notice changes in your family member’s or friend’s fitness to drive.

If you feel unwell, you should never drive. Even to go to the health centre or hospital. Everyone has a duty to intervene if their friend or family member is about to drive when unwell. Give them a lift yourself or call a taxi. In an emergency, call 112 and request an ambulance.

The Finnish Road Safety Council has a self-assessment guide for older drivers (a pdf in Finnish). The guide contains tips on how to assess your driving capability and watch out for warning signs. You can also take a test online or request a paper copy of the guide.

Take illnesses and medication into account when driving

If you are on medication, make sure you are aware of its possible impact on your ability to drive safely. Medicines can have various adverse effects on driving ability, and even on your functioning ability and balance when walking. Medicines can:

  • impair judgement
  • cause drowsiness
  • weaken your alertness and coordination
  • slow down sensory perception
  • reduce performance
  • cause dizziness and nausea.

A red warning triangle on the side of the medicine container means that the medicine has known adverse effects on driving. For example, many sedatives and sleeping drugs increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel. If the patient needs to carry on driving while taking a triangle-marked medicine, they should discuss their options with the prescribing physician and follow their recommendations.

Monitor your health

For drivers, many illnesses are more harmful when left untreated than when treated. Prescribed medicines should be taken regularly and according to the physician’s instructions. If the medication does not feel suitable for whatever reason, or if it impacts your ability to drive, discuss it with your doctor.

It is a good idea to avoid alcohol. Many medicines are a poor match with alcohol, especially for older people.

Even though not marked with a red warning triangle, some medicines can have an impact on driving. For example, some antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Read the package leaflet carefully and monitor your reactions to the medicine, especially when you first start the treatment. You should never drive if you feel strange, tired or disorientated.

Interactions of different medicines

An individual illness with medication does not necessarily affect fitness to drive. Some people have multiple conditions that require a range of medicines. The interactions of some medicines can impact driving ability.

If you drive and take several types of medicines, make sure that the physician prescribing any new medicines is aware of your other medication. Physicians have an important role in assessing the combined impact of illnesses and medicines on the patient’s driving ability.

Giving up driving for health reasons

If a person’s driving health shows signs of deteriorating, it is a good idea to start thinking about alternatives. Especially in locations without frequent public transport and where distances are long, many people need a car for independent mobility and everyday life. A new car-less life stage can mean learning how to use public transport, moving closer to services, training for a new job, or relying on being driven by family and friends.

Discussions with immediate family can help find solutions. It is especially important to talk about the issue if the illness can impact one’s own judgement. For example, what should family members do if the person attempts to get behind the wheel when they are not allowed to drive?

Help available

It can be difficult to make decisions when facing a big change like giving up driving. Advice and support is provided by many patient organisations. Also many local authorities provide services such as guidance on using public transport.

Finnish Road Safety Council, the Alzheimer Society of Finland, the Finnish Heart Association and the Finnish Diabetes Association have made an online material which contains advice about driving health. The online material is at the moment only available in Finnish (link to the material).

The online material

  • advice and support for starting a discussion about fitness to drive
  • help for identifying signs of deteriorating driving health
  • tips for safe driving when still fit enough to drive
  • guidance on considering alternative modes of transport after giving up driving
  • advice about specialised help and peer support.