Driving in Parkinson's disease: Mobility, accidents, and sudden onset of sleep at the wheel



Only few studies have addressed driving ability in Parkinson's disease (PD) to date. However, studies investigating accident proneness of PD patients are urgently needed in the light of motor disability in PD and—particularly—the report of “sleep attacks” at the wheel. We sent a questionnaire about sudden onset of sleep (SOS) and driving behavior to 12,000 PD patients. Subsequently, of 6,620 complete data sets, 361 patients were interviewed by phone. A total of 82% of those 6,620 patients held a driving license, and 60% of them still participated in traffic. Of the patients holding a driving license, 15% had been involved in and 11% had caused at least one accident during the past 5 years. The risk of causing accidents was significantly increased for patients who felt moderately impaired by PD, had an increased Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) score, and had experienced SOS while driving. Sleep attacks at the wheel usually occurred in easy driving situations and resulted in typical fatigue-related accidents. Those having retired from driving had a more advanced (subjective) disease severity, higher age, more frequently female gender, an increased ESS score, and a longer disease duration. The study revealed SOS and daytime sleepiness as critical factors for traffic safety in addition to motor disabilities of PD patients. The results suggest that real sleep attacks without any prior sleepiness are rare. However, our data underline the importance of mobility for patients and the need for further studies addressing the ability to drive in PD. © 2005 Movement Disorder Society