Epilepsy is not easily understood. In fact, two-thirds of patients diagnosed with epilepsy the cause is unknown. The mortality rate among people with epilepsy is two to three times higher than the general population and the risk of sudden death is twenty-four times greater. There is a strong association between epilepsy and depression: more than one of every three persons with epilepsy will also be affected by depression, and people with a history of depression have a higher risk of developing epilepsy. What does all this have to do with driving laws? The only visible sign of epilepsy is seizures. Seizures and driving do not go hand in hand.
In the United States, the laws that currently monitor driving with a diagnosis of epilepsy are managed from state to state. All states have a question when applying for a drivers license or renewal that specifically asks about medical conditions that cause seizures, most mention epilepsy by name.
There are some states that require doctors to report diagnosis of epilepsy to the Department of Motor Vehicles. In those states, this is more of an effort to avoid liability. Currently, the states that require this documentation are Pennsylvania, Nevada, Oregon, California, New Jersey, and Delaware. When a person of driving age is diagnosed, they must alert the state. The state will then assess when or if the driver’s license should be pulled from the driver and for how long.
Comparing the laws of few different states may help readers to understand the great diversity and the need to make yourself aware if you are moving to a new state.
Utah law states that the Medical Advisory Board makes the final decisions surrounding the issue of driver’s licenses for those who have seizures. The general guidelines are that an individual should be seizure-free and on or off medications for three months. If someone is denied a driver’s license, they only have ten days to post an appeal. For health professionals to make a decision on reporting the need to pull a driving license because of epilepsy, the state has some guidelines. The guidelines categorize epilepsy and episodic conditions into 8 levels according to the seriousness of the impairment and the corresponding license restrictions. Each level carries specific recommendations and guidelines specific to the state of Utah.
There are also set standards to review the license and drivers must provide statements from their physician.
Montana is much less restrictive. The person behind the counter where you apply for your driver’s license makes the call. There are no stringent guidelines. The DMV employee can request documentation from a physician, but it is not required to by law. There are no set standards of review. It is a fluid situation.
New York does things a little different as well. The applicant for a driver’s license who has epilepsy needs to bring confirmation from the physician that he/she has been seizure free for a year. The DMV can request medical updates at their own discretion. License denials can be appealed up to 30 days.
Clearly, the laws are all over the place. Each state has different requirements.