We tend to think of concussions as mild, temporary injuries. They’re actually a form of traumatic brain injury – in fact, the most common form.

Concussions account for a staggering 75 percent of all brain injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They happen in car accidents, falls, contact sports and other everyday activities. They affect people of all ages, from children to vulnerable elders.

Alarming consequences in the short- and long-term

Although they’re certainly less serious than life-threatening blows such as skull fractures, concussions can still cause major disruptions in brain activity. They affect concentration, memory, emotions, thought processes and other cognitive functions.

What’s more, the consequences of concussions aren’t always temporary. Research continues to shed light on the alarming prevalence of long-term effects such as:

  • Abnormal brain waves that may last for years
  • Problems with attention, concentration and memory
  • Balance and visual impairments
  • Increased risk of epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s

A recent study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma has also shown that a concussion can impact the victim’s driving abilities – even after the symptoms have cleared up.

Why post-concussion driving can be dangerous

It’s easy to forget how much brain power it takes to drive safely. We’re constantly synthesizing information coming at us from all directions. We have to interpret and prioritize that information to make the right decisions – often times, in the space of a split-second.

The very skills required for safe driving – concentration, situational awareness, swift reaction time, visual processing and sound judgment – are impacted by concussions. According to the Neurotrama study, concussion victims had more difficulty staying in their lanes and controlling their speed (especially around curves and turns) than the control drunk driving.

Playing it safe

When athletes suffer concussions, they typically aren’t allowed back on the field until their symptoms have resolved. Yet the vast majority of concussion victims still continue to drive, even while still experiencing symptoms.

Further research is needed on just how long concussion-related driving impairment can last. In the meantime, however, it’s best for victims to play it safe and stay off the road as much as they can in the aftermath of a concussion.