Can You Drive With a Knee Brace? 8 Fast Facts

Can You Drive With a Knee Brace? 8 Fast Facts

Can you drive with a knee brace? This question is of critical importance to the 10 million Americans who see a doctor for knee pain or injuries each year and the around 800,000 patients who require total knee replacement or other surgeries.

The short answer is yes, you can drive with a knee brace. But the fact that you can doesn't always mean that you should. To drive safely with a knee brace, you need to adopt the right tools and practices to ensure your safety and the safety of others while you are on the road. 

Making informed choices about your brace, your medications, and other key factors that influence driving safety can keep you behind the wheel even while dealing with a knee injury. Keep reading to learn more now.

Knee Braces and Driving

The medical and legal landscape around driving with a knee brace is complex. There is no single set of hard and fast guidelines for patients wearing knee braces when it comes to operating motor vehicles. As a result:

  • Many doctors do not adequately discuss the subject with patients
  • Doctors may offer vague or conflicting information when asked about driving
  • Patients often continue or resume driving without a clear understanding of the safety and legal concerns involved 

This can lead to unfortunate circumstances. Patients may find themselves facing new injuries, costly accident bills, or worse. Arming yourself with the facts before you get behind the wheel is critical. 

Here are the top eight facts and tips for driving after knee surgery or with a brace that every orthopedic patient needs to know. 

1. Your Doctor Cannot Determine Your Ability to Drive

Your doctor is an authority on your body and how your injuries have affected your mobility. It makes sense to discuss your ability to drive with them and to get their opinions and suggestions on if and when you should operate motor vehicles.

Legally, however, your doctor cannot authorize you to drive. This is true of every kind of doctor, including specialists, surgeons, and general practitioners. Your doctor can offer their opinion on your fitness to drive with or without a brace, but that is all.

Getting your doctor's permission to drive also does not offer you any legal protection should an accident or injury occur while you are behind the wheel. By law, you are the only one responsible for your decision to drive. If you choose to drive while impaired or while using a mobility aid such as a knee brace, you assume all liability for that choice. 

If you need a legal opinion on your capacity to drive safely, you can schedule a driving test with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the equivalent agency. During the test, a certified instructor will assess your abilities and make a legal determination. 

2. Different States Have Different Rules About Driving With Knee Braces

State laws on driving with knee braces and other mobility impairments vary. It is important to review your state's rules before making the decision to drive. When in doubt, contact the DMV to verify that you understand all of the rules and risks before getting behind the wheel.

You may also want to consult your auto insurance policy, as driving while impaired may affect your coverage. 

3. Braces Can Slow Your Reaction Time

Knee injuries often limit people's ability to engage in daily activities. This includes everything from climbing stairs to attending social events. Driving is no exception.

Both the injury and the use of a brace can slow drivers' reaction times. This means that they need more time to accelerate, brake, and use clutch pedals where applicable. 

To compensate, knee brace wearers should: 

  • Leave more space between their vehicles and other vehicles when driving
  • Stick to the speed limit and consider taking lower-speed routes when possible 
  • Avoid dicey driving situations which are likely to involve sharp turns, short stops, and other quick-reaction responses
  • Avoid driving in bad weather when possible

Drivers should also ensure that their cars are in good working order, as they will be less able to compensate if their vehicle responds sluggishly or poorly when they step on the brakes or the gas.

4. You May Need to Adjust Your Driving Position to Accommodate Your Brace

Many brace-wearers are not aware of all the ways that their knee brace affects their posture when sitting and standing. This can be particularly true for:

  • Unique or unusual seats, such as car seats
  • Individuals who have been wearing braces for a long time
  • Individuals who have recently switched braces

However, even the most ergonomic knee braces do affect how one sits. This in turn impacts drivers' orientation to their pedals and control over the vehicle. It also changes the pressure and strain driving places on your legs and knees.

The right seat position and driving posture can make driving with a knee brace safer and more comfortable. 

5. Driving an Automatic Vehicle Can Be a Better Choice

According to recent studies, you need as much as 25 percent more range of motion and flexibility in your knees to operate a vehicle with a clutch pedal. Standard transmission vehicles also specifically require more use of your left knee than automatic transmission vehicles. 

The slower reaction times associated with knee injuries and braces also potentially have a much higher impact on driving safety in standard transmission vehicles. This is because you need to operate two pedals instead of one to achieve the same result, which can multiply the amount of time lost in each action. In emergency situations, this can be costly. 

As a result, drivers with knee braces may find it helpful to drive automatic vehicles instead of standard ones. 

6. Driving May Not Be Good for Your Knee

For many Americans, the ability to drive is a fraught and emotional subject. The unwelcome truth, however, is that driving with a knee injury simply may not be good for your knee.

Even with proper seat placement, an automatic vehicle, and relatively low stress driving environments, the act of driving can put a lot of strain on your knee. This can:

  • Slow down healing times
  • Aggravate existing inflammation
  • Prolong knee pain
  • Negatively impact the condition of your knee over time

If driving is important to you, talk to your doctor and your physical therapist about what you can do to minimize the strain that driving puts on your knee. 

7. The Right Brace Can Protect Your Knee While Driving 

There are many different types of knee braces. Patients exploring how to avoid re-injuring your knee when driving often find that choosing the right brace for their needs makes a huge difference. 

Unfortunately, there is no single best knee brace for driving. Which brace will be right for you depends on your specific concerns and condition. For many patients, a sturdy brace with bilateral hinges is an ideal choice. It provides enough flexibility to operate pedals safely while reducing the torsion and strain on the knee to comfortable levels.

Individuals with osteoarthritis may see better results from an unloader brace.

The best way to determine the right brace for your personal needs is to discuss the matter with your doctor. Explain:

  • Your need or desire to drive
  • Your vehicle and standard driving conditions
  • Your specific knee injury and the potential for re-injury or aggravation during driving  
  • What kind of support you need from a brace to minimize that potential for harm

You may find that you need different braces for different activities. You may select one brace for standard wear around your house but have another dedicated to driving, for instance. While this can seem inconvenient at first glance, it may simply be the price you pay to keep yourself safely and responsibly behind the wheel. 

8. It's Not Just About Your Brace

Many drivers with knee braces experience ongoing pain. This can result in trouble sleeping and sleep deprivation. Driving while even mildly sleep deprived is as dangerous as driving drunk.

Brace-wearers are also commonly prescribed pain killers, sedatives, and other medications. These pharmaceuticals can help patients with knee problems live full and active lives. They can also present their own dangers when driving. 

It is important to consider the full spectrum of ways your knee injury and associated treatments may impact your ability to drive safely. Consider both the individual and cumulative effects to ensure that you make the best and safest decision for yourself and others. 

Can You Drive With a Knee Brace?

Can you drive with a knee brace? Yes, but doing so safely requires thought, care, and proper investment. Check out our Knee Bible today to learn more about knee conditions, treatments, and solutions. 

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