Driving and epilepsy
A guide to driving regulations and travel costs
If you drive, one immediate effect of having a seizure is that you have to stop driving. This is true for all types of seizures, and whether you have a diagnosis of epilepsy or not. For many people this can have a big impact on their life, and be very difficult or upsetting.
Some of the driving regulations for epilepsy changed in March 2013, and are included on this page.
See our summary of the changes.
Follow our interactive guide to see at a glance how the driving regulations affect you.
The regulations that apply to you will depend on the type of seizures you have now, the type of seizures you have had in the past, and the type of licence you hold (Group 1 or Group 2), Regulations also apply after just one 'isolated seizure'.
If you are not able to drive because of your epilepsy, you may be entitled to discounted travel on trains, buses and coaches. You may also be entitled to help with travel costs to work and to certain medical appointments.
The driver and vehicle licensing agency (DVLA) licenses cars and drivers for driving on public roads in Great Britain. If you have a driving licence, and have a seizure of any kind, the DVLA regulations say that you must stop driving.
By law it is your duty to tell the DVLA about any medical condition which may affect your ability to drive, including epilepsy. This is a condition of holding a driving licence. You are responsible for telling the DVLA and returning your licence to them (link opens in a new window).
The regulations cover all epileptic seizures:
- auras and warnings
- seizures where you are conscious
- myoclonic seizures and
- seizures where you lose consciousness.
Regulations also apply after just one 'isolated seizure', whether you have a diagnosis of epilepsy or not, and whether you are taking anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) or not.
Medical Standards of Fitness to Drive
Epileptic seizures are specifically included in the Road Traffic Act 1988. This means that by law, if you have one or more seizures, certain driving standards must be met in order to hold a driving licence.
The DVLA’s ‘Medical Standards of Fitness to Drive’ sets out these driving standards, advised by expert medical panels, and based on UK and European legislation. Only the medical advisers at the DVLA are able to decide whether or not someone meets the standards of fitness to drive.
The DVLA's ‘Customer service guide for drivers with a medical condition’ is available from the Department for Transport website (opens in a new window).
The DVLA uses some specific terms in its documents:
- ‘Asleep seizures’ are seizures that start while you are asleep, as you are falling asleep, or as you are waking up. Asleep seizures are sometimes called ‘nocturnal seizures’. If you have a seizure in your sleep during the day, the term ‘asleep seizures’ may apply if sleeping during the day is part of your normal routine (for example if you do shift work).
- 'Awake seizures' are seizures that start while you are awake. 'Awake' just means you are not asleep when the seizure starts. An awake seizure can be any type of seizure, including those where you lose consciousness,
- ‘Anti-epilepsy drugs’, which we call ‘anti-epileptic drugs’ or ‘AEDs’.
The driving regulations for epilepsy
Some of the driving regulations for epilepsy changed in March 2013, and are included below.
See our summary of the changes.
Follow our interactive guide to see at a glance how the driving regulations affect you.
According to the DVLA, for Group 1 licences, epilepsy is defined as two or more seizures within five years. For Group 2 licences, epilepsy is defined as two or more seizures within 10 years. The driving regulations are different if you have had a first, single ‘isolated seizure’.
Group 1 licences
This group includes cars, motorcycles and mopeds. To drive, you must meet all normal driving requirements and must have been completely free of seizures for one year, with or without taking anti-epileptic drugs.
The regulations are different:
Group 2 licences
This group includes large goods vehicles (LGV or lorries), passenger carrying vehicles (PCV or buses and minibuses with nine seats or more) and horse boxes. You must meet all normal driving requirements and must have been seizure-free, without taking anti-epileptic drugs, for the last 10 years. The DVLA will also need to be satisfied that you are not likely to have any more seizures.
Many local authorities apply the regulations for Group 2 licences to driving a taxi. However, each local authority decides on its own standards to drive.
Contact your local council for details (opens in a new window).
Awake seizures that do not affect consciousness or ability to control a vehicle
For some types of awake seizures, you may be able to apply for a new Group 1 licence (opens in a new window) after one year of not driving, even if you are still having seizures. This is only the case if all of the following apply to you:
- you stay fully conscious during your seizures
- you would be able to act, react, and control a vehicle normally during the seizure
- you have only these types of seizures and no other type, and
- you have never had a seizure that affects your consciousness or ability to control a vehicle.
If you have or have ever had other types of seizures which affect your ability to control a vehicle, for example where you become confused, feel numb or weak, or are unable to remember what has happened, these regulations will not apply to you. See Group 1 licences, above.
‘Asleep seizures’ (sometimes called ‘nocturnal seizures’) are seizures that start while you are sleeping, while you are falling asleep, or as you are waking up. The term ‘asleep seizures’ can apply at night or if you sleep in the daytime as part of your normal routine.
- If you have an asleep seizure you must stop driving for one year and contact the DVLA. If you are then seizure-free for one year you can apply for a new Group 1 licence (opens in a new window), as you can for ‘awake seizures’.
- If you have had only asleep seizures over a period of three years since your last awake seizure, you can apply for a new Group 1 licence to drive even if your asleep seizures continue. It is important that this pattern of only asleep seizures is seen over at least three years. You will still need to tell the DVLA and your insurance company about your seizures.
- If you have only ever had asleep seizures (and have never had an awake seizure), then once this pattern of only asleep seizures has been established for one year, you can apply for a new Group 1 licence to drive, even if your asleep seizures continue. This will no longer apply if you have an awake seizure in future.
- If you then have an awake seizure, you will need to stop driving for one year from the date of your last awake seizure. If you remain seizure-free for one year you can then apply for a new Group 1 licence.
Breakthrough seizures are seizures that happen when someone’s epilepsy has otherwise been fully controlled (and they have not been having seizures). If you are seizure-free and have a driving licence, and you have a breakthrough seizure, you will have to stop driving and tell the DVLA (opens in a new window).
Stopping or changing medication
If you stop taking your anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), there is a risk that your seizures will start again. If you and your doctor decide that you can stop taking (withdraw) your AEDs, your doctor may advise you to stop driving while you are coming off your AEDs and for six months after you have stopped your AEDs.
During this time, if you have a seizure you will need to stop driving and tell the DVLA. If you then go back onto the same medication and remain seizure-free for six months, you can apply for a new licence. This also applies if you have a seizure during changes to your medication that have been agreed with your doctor.
An exception to this is if you have an awake seizure that does not affect your consciousness or ability to drive, or an asleep seizure. You will still need to tell the DVLA about the seizure but you may still be allowed to drive and not lose your licence, depending on the type of seizures you have had previously.
If you have a non-epileptic seizure you will need to stop driving and tell the DVLA. If your seizures then become controlled, and your doctors and the DVLA are satisfied that you are unlikely to have another seizure, you may be able to apply for a new Group 1 licence. For more information contact the DVLA (opens in a new window).
If you have a seizure
If you have a driving licence, and have a seizure of any kind, you must stop driving and tell the DVLA. What happens next depends on your seizures.
In most cases, you will need to return your licence to the DVLA, by filling in a ‘Declaration of Surrender for Medical Reasons’ form (opens in a new window). If you have a Group 2 licence you also need to fill in a VOC99 form (opens in a new window). It may help to keep a copy of everything you send to the DVLA for your own records.
What happens if I continue to drive?
- Your licence will not be valid. You will be driving illegally, as driving without a valid licence is a criminal offence.
- Your car insurance will not be valid. Because of this you may have to pay the costs of a claim from another person.
What happens if I don’t tell the DVLA?
If you do not voluntarily surrender your licence to the DVLA, and are found to be driving, the DVLA may be notified and your licence revoked (taken away). You may also be fined. Telling the DVLA and voluntarily surrendering your licence can help you get a new licence more quickly if you then become seizure-free.
Will my doctor tell the DVLA?
It is your responsibility to tell the DVLA if you have had a seizure. The General Medical Council (which registers doctors in the UK) has guidelines for doctors about this. These say that doctors should explain to you that you have a legal duty to tell the DVLA, and they will write this in your medical records. If you continue to drive, they can tell the medical adviser at the DVLA and break medical confidentiality, due to the continued risk both to you and to members of the public. They should tell you first if they are going to do this.
What can I do if the DVLA revokes my licence?
If the DVLA revokes your licence or refuses your re-application for a licence, you can appeal against this decision. You need to make your appeal in writing. In England and Wales, this needs to be at a magistrates’ court within six months of the DVLA’s decision, and in Scotland, within 21 days at a Sheriff’s Court. Your doctor may be able to provide further medical evidence for the DVLA to consider.
If someone with no history of seizures has a seizure caused, or ‘provoked’, by something that is unlikely to happen again, this may be an ‘exceptional circumstance’. This might include a seizure happening immediately at the time of a head injury or a stroke. The DVLA looks at these circumstances on an individual basis.
Seizures caused by alcohol or drug misuse, sleep deprivation, stopping or changing medication, or side effects of medication are not usually considered provoked. If your first and only seizure was caused by alcohol or drug misuse, you will also need to meet the driving standards for alcohol problems or drug misuse (links open in a new window).
Getting your new licence
Once you meet the DVLA regulations to drive, you can apply for a new or first licence (opens in a new window). See above for which regulations apply to you. As the process of re-issuing a licence can take time, you can apply for your licence up to eight weeks before your one year seizure-free date. If you surrendered your licence, you may be able to start driving again once the DVLA has confirmed it has received your re-application, and your doctor confirms that you meet the standards. This does not apply if your licence was revoked. The DVLA will usually send you a questionnaire and ask permission to contact your doctor before issuing a new licence.
For a first Group 2 licence, you will need to pay for the medical form to be completed.
What sort of licence will I get?
When you get your new licence it will usually be a three-year licence. If you are then seizure-free for five years you may be given a Group 1 licence which is valid until you are 70 (as with people who do not have epilepsy). This is called a ‘till 70’ licence. If you have only ever had one seizure and you are otherwise well, and it is more than six months since the seizure, you may be given a ‘till 70’ licence without having to have a three-year one first.
Once the DVLA confirms that you can have a driving licence, you can drive the vehicles that your licence covers.
Telling your insurance company
If you have stopped driving due to a seizure, you will need to tell your insurance company. Insurance companies need to know if you have stopped driving due to a medical condition, as part of their terms and conditions. If you don’t tell the insurance company, and they find out that you have stopped driving, this may affect your insurance in the future. You may want to ask them if this affects a no-claims discount.
Insurance companies can ask questions or ask for more information about medical conditions to support your application. They may ask to see your driving licence or a letter from the DVLA confirming that you are allowed to drive.
Under the Equality Act 2010, insurance companies cannot increase the cost of a policy if a medical condition does not affect the risk of making a claim, and they need to consider your individual circumstances. Insurance companies cannot use the fact that you have a three-year licence as a reason for increasing the premium, or changing or refusing a policy. If the company increases your premium, they must be able to tell you why. This should mean that each application is considered fairly.
Visit www.equalityhumanrights.com for more about the Equality Act.
It may be worth contacting several companies to get the best quote for you. If you have any problems with insurance, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service (opens in a new window).
If you have a UK driving licence and you meet the DVLA regulations, you can drive under this licence in the UK, in countries in the European Economic Area and in the European Community. You may need an International Driving Permit for other countries.
When driving abroad, you must meet the medical standards for the country you are visiting. The AA and the RAC both have more information about driving abroad (links open in a new window).
If you are coming to the UK and need to apply, or reapply, for a UK licence, then the regulations on this page will apply to you.
Learning to drive
If you have epilepsy and want to learn to drive, you will need to be seizure-free for one year. Even if you have been seizure-free for a year, you still need to tell the DVLA about your epilepsy (opens in a new window). You will need to fill in a standard application form and the DVLA will send you a form for more details about your epilepsy.
If possible, the DVLA will decide whether you can have a driving licence based on the information you provide in the forms. If they need more information, they may contact your doctor as part of this process.
The regulations are different if you have only ever had:
• awake seizures which do not affect your consciousness or ability to control a vehicle or
• asleep seizures.
There are specific DVLA driving regulations for people after an isolated epileptic seizure. The DVLA’s definition of an isolated seizure is a first and single seizure with no history of seizures, or a number of seizures within a 24 hour period that are the person’s first ever seizures.
Isolated seizure: Group 1 licence
You must stop driving for six months from the date of the seizure, and tell the DVLA. You may be allowed to start driving again after six months if you have had no further seizures and there are no clinical factors (such as a scar on the brain) or results from investigations (such as an EEG) which suggest a high risk of you having another seizure.
Isolated seizure: Group 2 licence
You must stop driving for five years from the date of the seizure, and tell the DVLA. You may be allowed to start driving again after five years if there are no clinical factors (such as a scar on the brain) or results from investigations (such as an EEG) which suggest a high risk of you having another seizure.
You must not have been prescribed anti-epileptic drugs during the five years before applying for your licence. If you feel that these regulations apply to you, you can talk to your specialist or call the DVLA’s drivers medical enquiries number on 0300 790 6807.
Note: these regulations only apply to people who have had a first and single seizure. They do not apply to people diagnosed with epilepsy.
Where no licence is needed
Forklift trucks, farm vehicles and sit-on lawn mowers
The DVLA regulations cover vehicles that are driven on public highways, not vehicles that are used on private land. A driving licence is not needed for the following vehicles as long as they are only being driven on private land and not on public roads:
- forklift trucks
- farm vehicles (such as tractors and quad bikes)
- sit-on lawn mowers.
Employers need to consider health and safety regulations if someone drives these vehicles on private land as part of their job. The Health and Safety Executive advises standards for driving these vehicles that are similar to car and LGV standards, depending on the vehicle’s size and weight.
If these vehicles are driven on public highways then a driving licence would be needed. Contact the Health and Safety Executive on 0845 345 0055 (link opens in a new window).
Electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters
Electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters are not considered to be ‘vehicles’ and so you do not need a driving licence to use them, whether they are used on public or private land. However, wheelchairs or mobility scooters that are ‘class 3 invalid carriages’ can be used on the road, and need to be registered with the DVLA (opens in a new window).
Help with travel costs
People with epilepsy may be entitled to free or discounted travel. For people with epilepsy who have seizures, this is usually because they would be refused a driving licence.
Free bus travel throughout England
If you have had a seizure in the last year, and so wouldn’t be allowed to drive, you should be eligible for a free Bus Pass (opens in a new window). This can be used ‘off peak’ from 9.30am to 11pm Monday to Friday, and all day at weekends and Bank Holidays, on local buses anywhere in England. Some local councils have additional travel discounts. You may need a letter from your doctor to confirm that you are eligible, and you may have to pay for this letter.
Contact your local council to apply (opens in a new window).
Travel in London
People with epilepsy who live in London may be entitled to a Freedom Pass, getting free bus, train, tram and tube travel throughout London.
Some London Boroughs have a ‘London Taxicard Scheme’ for reduced cost taxi travel (links open in a new window). You may be eligible if your epilepsy affects your ability to walk or makes it difficult to use public transport. You may need your GP to sign your application form.
Travel in Merseyside
People with epilepsy who live in Merseyside are entitled to a Merseytravel National Travel Pass. This allows free travel on local buses anywhere in England between 9.30am and 11pm, and on most buses, trains and ferries in Merseyside all day, every day. Visit the Merseytravel website for details (opens in a new window).
Travel in Northern Ireland
People with epilepsy in Northern Ireland who would be refused a driving licence are eligible for a Half Fare SmartPass, which gives them a half fare discount on bus travel at any time of the day. You would need to show proof that you have been refused a driving licence. Visit the nidirect website for details (opens in a new window).
Travel in Scotland
People with epilepsy in Scotland who would be refused a driving licence are eligible for a Scotland-wide free bus travel pass. This allows free travel on local and long-distance bus services throughout Scotland at any time of the day. If you are on certain benefits, you may also be eligible for a companion to travel with you for free.
Contact your local authority (or Travel Card Unit for Strathclyde) or call Epilepsy Scotland’s helpline. All links open in a new window.
Travel in Wales
People with epilepsy in Wales are entitled to a bus pass that allows free local bus travel throughout Wales at any time of the day. Contact your local authority for details (opens in a new window).
Travelling by coach
National Express gives discount fares for people with disabilities, including epilepsy, and other coach companies may offer similar discounts.
Contact National Express for details (opens in a new window).
Travelling by train
People who are unable to drive due to their epilepsy can apply for a Disabled Person’s Railcard (opens in a new window). This gives them, and a companion, a third off most train fares in England, Wales and Scotland. To apply, you need a copy of your Exemption Certificate for anti-epileptic drugs (for free prescriptions), a photocopy of your prescription or a letter from the DVLA saying that you are not allowed to drive. There is a charge for this railcard.
Community transport services
Community transport services include schemes such as Dial-a-Ride, for people who have difficulty using public transport or who need wheelchair-accessible transport. Community transport services vary from area to area (opens in a new window).
The Access to Work scheme
If you are unable to use public transport due to your epilepsy, you may be able to get help towards the cost of getting to work through the Access to Work scheme. Contact your local Jobcentre Plus or visit the GOV.UK website for details (opens in a new window).
The Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme
The Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme provides financial help towards transport costs for people on certain benefits or a low income. The scheme covers travel to hospital for NHS medical treatment but does not include routine GP or dentist appointments. Visit the NHS website for details (opens in a new window) or call the NHS Low income scheme helpline on 0300 330 1343.
Other travel benefits
If you qualify for certain benefits based on your mobility, you may be entitled to:
- a Blue Badge parking permit (that can be used by another driver when you are a passenger), which also entitles you to register for a full discount on the London congestion charge and
- free road tax for a car registered in your name, or for a car which someone drives specifically for you as a passenger. Links opens in a new window.
Call the Disability Benefits Helpline on 0845 712 3456 or visit the GOV.UK website for details (opens in a new window).
Travelling by air
Having epilepsy does not usually stop people from being able to travel by air. However, some people find that their seizures are triggered by extreme tiredness (such as jetlag), excitement or anxiety, or dehydration, all of which can be caused by travelling or flying.
If you are concerned that you may have a seizure while flying, you may wish to tell the airline when you book. Some airlines will ask for a letter from your doctor saying that it is OK for you to travel by air, and explaining what to do if you have a seizure while flying.
It is recommended that you keep all your medication (in its original containers) in your hand luggage, and carry information from your GP or specialist about your epilepsy and your medication. Airport security regulations allow you to carry medication liquids up to 100ml in your hand luggage. If your liquid medication is in a container larger than 100ml you will need approval from the airline and airport before you fly.
Our page on Travel and holidays has more information.
You can order a copy of our leaflet 'driving and travel' from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer.
We are grateful to the DVLA for their guidance on the driving regulations information.
© Epilepsy Society.
Information produced in March 2013