“Without my glasses, I can barely drive at night,” Faith Akite said as she drove back one evening with friends. It was so bad that she had to ask a friend to drive, something she had never done. “That showed us how serious it was because Faith rarely lets anyone drive her car,” a friend says.
Dr Francis Asiimwe, a general physician at Ultracare Medical Services, says medical conditions that may hinder one’s ability to drive are those that affect the main faculties involved in operating a vehicle. These are the nervous system, the eyes, the ears, the musculoskeletal system, the heart, lungs and any serious systemic or organ disease.
Starting with the nervous system, Dr Asiimwe suggests that it may be grouped into conditions affecting the brain, or the nerves coordinating the rest of body to brain, such as: sleep deprivation or sleep disorders: One that is either sleep depraved or has a sleep disorder cannot operate a car with finesse. That is not to mention that one can easily sleep off while driving which will ultimately result in accidents and loss of life.
Alcohol/ substance abuse
These undermine one’s mental faculties thus poor functionality. As such, they are actually not supposed to operate vehicles at all because they can easily make wrong judgements. Drug side effects include sedating, dystonic, dehydrating, hypoglycaemic. All these effects negatively affect one’s functionality thus undermining their ability to drive.
Seizures will undoubtedly be a potential source of accidents and injuries, which justifies limitations on driving for those liable to getting epileptic seizures. One who gets recurrent seizures can surely not handle a vehicle well.
It can be caused by several diseases such as stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. When one is diagnosed with dementia it is important to get treatment as one gets worse with time. Therefore, symptoms such as memory loss, visual-spatial disorientation, and decreased cognitive function will worsen with time. Sabrina Manzi’s mother suffers from dementia and it was this that got Manzi take over the wheel. “She could not remember some of the things any more yet we still wanted her to enjoy the outdoors once in a while,” she shares.
Driving also requires a clear vision, therefore conditions which decrease vision are some of the medical conditions that can affect one’s driving. Dr Pius Mwanja of Life Link Medical Centre, shares some of these:
Dr Mwanja says this is caused by increased pressure in the eye leading to a damaged retina. One with glaucoma continually starts failing to see things on the sides such as an overtaking vehicle.
These occur when the lens of the eye becomes opaque, resulting in blurred vision. Cataracts could affect either one or both eyes and are very common.
However, for one to drive safely, they need clear vision, therefore, Alex Ntambi, the Fleet Supervisor at MTN Uganda, says one with cataracts faces difficulty while driving and the impact increases with the seriousness of the cataracts; in earlier stages, one may drive with little or no difficulty and in advanced stages leads to glare from headlights, and poor night vision.
However, all hope is not lost because corrective surgery can be done to reduce the symptoms, making driving a possibility, yet again.
Dr Asiimwe goes on to share several other conditions that affect one’s driving ability:
These cause sudden inhibition and circulatory compromise whose common cause is heart attacks and are due to heart conditions that are not diagnosed or poorly managed. These conditions include fat accumulation and blockage, drugs and substance overdose, especially high caffeine as is in energy drinks, hypertension, kidney disease, thyroid disease, heart structural and conduction anomalies. Infections here include infective endocarditis which often sequel to recurrent dental disease, upper respiratory disease, purulent skin disease or renal disease. Other viral or bacterial conditions occur especially in alcoholics.
They are also due to undetected or poorly managed diseases and these can be of sudden onset such as an asthmatic attack. Others are infections like pneumonias, severe bronchitis and tuberculosis. Collapsed lungs and pleural rubs due to cancers and other diseases can also cause sudden severe pains inhibiting ability to control a vehicle.
Though it is not a medical condition, Mzee Kawesi attests to fact that he can no longer drive as well as he did years back. “My eyes and ability to respond fast have deteriorated that I am safer asking someone to help me drive,” he mentions. Old age comes with several impairments such as poor vision which will definitely affect how one drives. That said, there are several senior citizens that can still drive without a flaw.
Nonetheless, Dr Mwanja says it is also important to note that with some medical conditions, you cannot drive at all. These include blindness, deafness muteness.
Lately, there is an increasing number of mental conditions although not all affect driving. While someone with anxiety or depression may not have a problem while driving, they could face a challenge when the condition hampers their thought process making it impossible to concentrate on what is happening on the road. Some of the mental illnesses worth noting are psychosis, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Brian Magezi loved the thrill that came with driving, so much so that he drove whenever he had an errand regardless of how short the distance was from wherever he was. However, his sister says that when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they were advised to ensure that he never drove alone least he failed to operate the vehicle at any one time.