Driving with a heart or circulatory condition

A heart or circulatory condition might stop you from driving for a little while, but very few people have to give up driving altogether.

Can I still drive?

Road on a sunny dayThe length of time you may have to stop driving for will vary depending on the condition you have, and the type of vehicle you drive (for example the restrictions are stricter for those driving heavy goods vehicles and buses).

You shouldn’t drive if you suffer from a medical condition that might suddenly cause you to lose control while driving, or if you cannot safely control your vehicle for any reason.

You should also stop driving and seek advice from your doctor immediately if you experience episodes of dizziness, fainting or blackouts.

If a doctor tells you that you need to stop driving for three months or more, you will have to surrender your licence to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). You can apply to get your licence back when you meet the medical standards for driving again.

  • Visit the DVLA website to look at whether you can drive with your medical condition. You should also always seek advice from your doctor.

Do I need to tell the DVLA?

It varies for each condition. To find out if you need to tell the DVLA about your medical condition or about a change in your health, visit the DVLA website. If you do have to tell them, you will need to fill in a medical questionnaire – you can do this online or send it by post. 

You will need to let the DVLA know about your heart or circulatory condition if you hold a licence to drive a large goods vehicle (LGV) or a passenger-carrying vehicle (PCV) as there are special regulations.

If you are over 70, you have to renew your driving licence every three years regardless of whether you have a medical condition.

You can also contact the DVLA by:

  • calling 0300 790 6806 Monday to Friday from 8am to 5.30pm, Saturday 8am to 1pm
  • email
  • post: Drivers’ Medical Enquiries, DVLA, Swansea SA99 1TU.

Do I need to let my car insurer know?

Yes. Whatever type of licence you hold you should always let your car insurance company know about your heart condition and any changes in your medical condition, including any treatment that you’ve had. If you don’t, your car insurance may not be valid.

Other types of insurance, such as travel and life insurance may also be affected by your heart condition. It’s important to let your insurer know about changes to your health. 

Why would I need to stop driving?

There are two things the DVLA considers when assessing whether you can drive: 

  • if your condition could cause a sudden collapse at the wheel – these include epileptic events, loss of consciousness, and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or
  • if your condition could affect your ability to drive safely, for example if you have a physical disability, impaired vision, cognitive impairment, a mental health condition, or are dependent on alcohol / drugs.

DVLA is advised by panels of medical experts on how long the period should be before you can resume driving.

In rare cases, you may not be able to drive again due to the seriousness of your condition. However this decision is not taken lightly, and each case is assessed by a team of medical experts.  

How quickly you can get back to driving depends on:

  • whether you still have any symptoms
  • the type of treatment you’ve had
  • how well you’ve recovered.

Can I still drive if I have…

A heart attack, or angioplasty (stents)

You don’t need to tell the DVLA, but you should stop driving for:

  • 4 weeks if you had a heart attack, but no angioplasty
  • 1 week if you had a successful angioplasty (ie you don’t need any more surgery) - whether or not you had a heart attack
  • 4 weeks if your angioplasty wasn’t successful.

Coronary bypass surgery 

You can’t drive for a least a month, but you don’t have to notify the DVLA. You can restart driving when your doctor tells you it’s safe.

Heart failure

You may be able to drive if you have heart failure, but it depends on the symptoms you have. If your symptoms are stable and don’t distract you while driving, or affect your ability to drive safely, then you can continue to drive and don’t need to notify the DVLA. 

You must stop driving for at least one month and tell the DVLA if you have symptoms when you’re not doing any activity and if your symptoms distract you when driving. If you are not sure, then have a chat with your doctor who can advise you. You should only start driving again when your doctor tells you it’s safe.

A stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA or mini stroke)

If you’ve had a stroke, you must not drive for at least 1 month. You can continue to drive after this if your doctor thinks you have made a significant recovery. You only need to let the DVLA know if you are still having problems 1 month after the stroke.  

If your limbs have become weak since your stroke you do not have to notify the DVLA unless it means you can now only use certain types of vehicles, or need a vehicle to be specially adapted. 

Pacemaker implant – including box change 

You can’t drive for at least 1 week. You may continue to drive after that as long as you don’t have another condition that might disqualify you. You need to tell the DVLA.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

You can’t drive for one month if you had an ICD fitted, and you didn’t have a cardiac arrest. 

If you did have a cardiac arrest, you can’t drive for 6 months. Each time you experience shock therapy (when the ICD gives you a shock) you can’t drive for 6 months. You need to tell the DVLA.

Diabetes - this is a risk factor for developing heart and circulatory disease

Yes, if your diabetes is managed by lifestyle and/or tablets, and you don’t have complications. You don’t need to tell the DVLA, (but it’s best to check with your doctor too). Tell the DVLA if you use insulin. If you’re not experiencing complications, in many cases you can still drive.

Dementia (all types) - this is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that affect how well the brain can function normally

As dementia presents in many different ways and has varying rates of progression, it is difficult to assess driving ability in people with dementia. You may be able to drive with dementia, but you must let the DVLA know. All decisions on licensing are usually based on medical reports, and will consider the following:

  • poor short-term memory, disorientation, and lack of insight and judgement – this will almost certainly mean you won’t be able to drive 
  • cognitive impairment
  • in early dementia, when sufficient skills are retained and progression is slow, a licence may be issued subject to annual review. 
A formal driving assessment may also be necessary.

The conditions mentioned relate to those driving cars and motorcycles. The rules are different for bus and lorry drivers. For a list of all medical conditions, visit the DVLA website. 

Emotional wellbeing

It can be difficult coming to terms with being told you can’t drive for a period of time. For many, driving provides independence and makes daily routines much easier. 
Richard, 64, a retired lawyer, had an ICD fitted after suffering a cardiac arrest. He's had five shocks delivered by the device over the past 11 years which have prevented him from driving on several occasions: 
 
"The psychological impact can be horrendous - you fear your ICD going off again and the limitations that can create, combined with the inability to jump in the car. At first you feel absolutely hopeless and depressed. But you have to grit your teeth and get on with it.

“Using public transport wasn’t the biggest problem for me, but more that I felt the loss of being my own boss by not being able to jump in the car and go places. If you can't do that, you have to rely on someone else.

"It was an absolute pleasure and joy when I got back in the car after a six-month break. I had to take it steady at first to get used to the car again. For the first day or two I didn't go on the motorway and just stuck to going around town until I felt comfortable."

What other transport options are available to me?

  • You might be able to get a free bus pass – these are available to older and disabled people, including those with a condition which means they would be refused a driving licence (in Northern Ireland, disabled people can only get a half fare bus pass). 
  • You can also use a senior railcard or disabled persons railcard to get discounts on rail fares.
  • Many areas also have community transport schemes. Visit the Community Transport Association website or phone 0161 351 1475 to find schemes in your area. 

Read more about the challenges of not being able to drive with a heart condition on Heart Matters.