To Drive or Not to Drive - With Multiple Sclerosis

Patient Expert

Who could forget the surge of excitement that comes with receiving your very first driver's license. Or that feeling of sheer independence when you finally were able to drive off on your own. The sweet freedom of purchasing your very own car It wasn't really about the license or the car. It was about the ability to stand on your own two feet; the joy of leaving dependence upon others behind.

When multiple sclerosis strikes, how do we know when to put away our car keys? As we gradually lose our sense  of  independence in many areas, our very freedom hinges on the ability to put that key in the ignition and drive away.

In a previous post, "At the Crossroads," I spoke about the decision to continue working or not. Another crossroads many of us face is whether or not to continue driving.

People with MS experience a wide variety of symptoms, many which have absolutely no effect on driving skills. Most of us are able to drive safely. Others experience numbness, loss of sensation, pain, visual disturbances and slowed reflexes. These symptoms can be severe enough to make driving unsafe.

People who have relapsing/remitting MS may be unable to drive safely during relapses, while regaining full function as the exacerbation wanes. I fit into this category.

In many communities, mass transportation is virtually non-existant. If MS hasn't already robbed us of our ability to make a living, the inability to drive may clinch the deal. Our natural impulse is to hang on to this privilege as long as possible.

It is a decision I make every day. In some respects, I'm very lucky. My workplace is only four miles through town and I only work half-days. My husband works from home, so he is able to provide transportation when called upon. I'm a very cautious person, and deem myself to be a safe driver about 60 percent of the time.

I do very well with the stop and go driving of a small city, but it's been several years since I've driven on a highway for any length of time. The lack of movement causes me to lose sensation in my limbs, making my reaction time questionable.

Because of this, my world has gotten considerably smaller. I've lost the freedom to spontaneously jump in the car and hit the road. Despite my sense of responsibility to myself and others on the road, it's been a tremendous blow.

Like many of the crossroads at which we find ourselves, we must take into consideration that our decision affects others as well. We have a responsibility to assess the situation with an open mind.

We've made tough decisions before. This won't be the last. To drive or not to drive. Just another MS crossroads.