Driving with bipolar disorder in California: Is there cause for concern?

Oct 8, 2019 by

Driving with bipolar disorder in California: Is there cause for concern?

It has been said that bipolar disorder is one of the most common mental health issues that has led to suspended driver’s licenses under California law. The California DMV is authorized to investigate any condition, whether medical or mental, that hinders a driver’s ability to drive safely. But what is it about bipolar disorder that stands out to them?

People with bipolar disorder typically shift between spirited and energetic “manic” moods and gloomy, dejected “depressive” moods, both of which can feel very intense. The DMV’s issue with this is that these moods can result in unsafe driving practices, such as someone in a manic mood being more willing to take risks. Also, some medication for bipolar disorder can reduce alertness while on the road, which also makes it less safe to drive.

However, having bipolar disorder does not automatically mean you cannot drive. Columbia University’s Paul S. Appelbaum, MD says that there are people with observable mental conditions with perfect driving records, just as there are people with no mental health issues who are bad drivers. To that end, if you have bipolar disorder and are planning on driving, you’ll have to evaluate factors such as how intense your manic and depressive moods are, what kind of medication you are taking, and your previous driving record.

Once you’ve discussed these factors with your doctor and/or the DMV, you may still be able to drive. But if not, be sure to take care of yourself and always obey the laws of the road.

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