6 Tips for Driving After ACL Surgery – When Can I Drive?

You can drive after ACL surgery when you are confident and feel comfortable. This is different for everyone! 

Importantly, to drive after ACL surgery you must be able to brake suddenly in case of an emergency!  Accordingly, when you drive for the first time it is important to have control of your right leg in particularly.

A doctor or therapist can assist to provide individual advice as essentially driving after ACL surgery should be assessed on a case by case basis.

Generally speaking it is thought that your reaction times can be impacted for the first 4 to 6 weeks after a knee reconstruction.

Hence the key factors for determining when you can drive after surgery include your ability to perform an emergency stop and move your leg from side to side plus returning reaction times back to satisfactory levels.

A key benefit of driving after ACL surgery is that it can help patients to return to their normal daily life early in their recovery timeline.  However, patients should only drive when it is safe to do so.Driving-After-ACL-Surgery

It is not always obvious when it is safe to drive for the first time after ACL surgery and it can be daunting for some people.  If you unsure, try practising in a vacant car park until you feel confident.

There are no standard guidelines for when you can drive after ACL surgery as everyone is different.

Top 6 tips for driving after ACL surgery 

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 1 – Driving is possible when you feel comfortable

You can drive when you are confident and feel comfortable to do so.  There are no well established guidelines that we are aware of for when you can drive after ACL surgery.

Therefore it is important to use common sense – don’t rush to get behind the wheel and wait until you feel ready.  You may wish to try driving in a vacant parking lot to start with.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 2 – You “must” be able to brake quickly

You must be able to brake quickly in case of an emergency.  So it is important to have control and function of your right leg to respond quickly to the car pedals just in case a toddler runs out across the road in front of you.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 3 – Talk to your doctor

If you are unsure about driving, try have a conservation with your doctor to discuss your specific circumstances.

It is possible that your doctor is reluctant to clear you to drive in fear that they could expose themselves to liability if an injury were to occur.   Nevertheless, a conversation with your doctor to discuss the key considerations may still be of value to you.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 4 – Take more time with a right knee procedure

To drive a car you primarily use your right leg to push the pedals.  A right knee procedure generally means it will take longer until it is safe to drive because you need to be able to quickly move your right leg from side to side .

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 5 – Arrange a lift home after surgery

Make sure you arrange a lift back home such as through a family member or friend after your ACL operation.  You are likely to be omitted from hospital either on the same day of surgery or the next day.

Typically it is advised to not drive a car or any other vehicle for 48 hours after your anaesthetic.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 6 – Check your car insurance policy

Check with your car insurer if there are any restriction periods before you drive your car.

See below for more information on when you can drive after ACL surgery!

When you should not drive after ACL surgery

Firstly, do not drive yourself home after ACL surgery as your reaction times are likely to be impaired.  Arrange a lift home from the hospital such as through a family member or friend.

As a general rule you should not drive a car for 48 hours after an anaesthetic or if you are taking narcotic pain medication.

In the coming weeks post-surgery, if you are wearing a brace or cast on your right leg then it goes without saying that this is going to impact your reaction times driving a car.

It is fairly obvious that you should not be driving under those circumstances where your ability to brake in the car is restricted.

Narcotic pain medication can make you feel drowsy and groggy and therefore you should not drive if you are taking this medication during the daytime.

Preference would be to take the pain killer medication at night to help you sleep.

Before you drive after ACL surgery check your car insurance policy 

It is also advised that you check with your car insurance company prior to driving your car in case there are periods of restriction after knee surgery written into your insurance policy that you may not be aware of.

What side of your body was the knee procedure

When you can drive after ACL surgery will also depend on which knee, left or right, you had operated. If it was your left knee that was operated on and you have full use of your right leg then you will be able to return to driving a car sooner.

Compared to if you had your right knee operated on which is the leg primarily used for driving a car and therefore means it will usually take a bit more time before you can drive after ACL surgery

Driving after ACL surgery on your right knee

If it is your right knee then this is more of a problem as you primarily use the right leg for driving. Using the right leg for driving is generally the case for most vehicles that are driven on public roads.

The most important factor is that you can drive after ACL surgery when you are confident and feel comfortable.

As mentioned above, you must be able to break hard and stop quickly in case a 3 year old runs across the road in front of you!

As there are no standard industry guidelines to follow when determining when it is safe to drive after ACL surgery, there are a number of other indicators that doctors refer to when making an assessment including:

  • If you had a reconstruction on your right knee then consider allowing a period of 4 to 6 before you drive again
  • You should only drive once you restore control of your quadriceps muscles
  • Walking after ACL surgerywithout crutches is a strong indicator that you can drive a car again

Note: Some patients may say that they can use their left foot to brake instead of their right, however evidence suggests that this may cause your reaction times to slow and adversely impact your safety

It is also important to have your pain and knee swelling under control and to ensure you are comfortable when breaking. You will need a good range of motion to move your leg backwards and forwards.

Driving after ACL surgery on your left knee

If you drive an automatic and it is your left knee then you can drive after ACL surgery once you feel that your reaction times are back to normal, pain allows, and you are not taking narcotic pain medication.

If you had surgery on your left knee and drive an automatic transmission then you will be able to drive after ACL surgery within possibly a matter of days. However it is a good idea to allow for about 1 to 2 weeks to be safe.

You should not drive if you are taking narcotic pain killer medication during the day as this can impact your reaction times.

Does the cars transmission impact when you can drive after ACL surgery

The type of vehicle is another factor which will impact when you can drive after ACL surgery.

If you drive an automatic transmission this will mean you can drive a car sooner compared to if you drive a manual vehicle, especially if your left knee was operated on.

If you had a left knee procedure and drive an automatic you can drive when you feel comfortable.

However if you drive a manual transmission then you will require function of your left leg to operate the clutch.

In other words you will need to make sure that your left leg can effectively push the clutch in and out.

Conclusion

Driving after ACL surgery is certainly possible once you feel confident and are comfortable to do so. This will be different for everybody.  Importantly you need to have good enough knee function to brake quickly in case of an emergency.

Are you feeling challenged by your ACL recovery?

As a helpful guide we have put together this simple yet remarkably effective ACL Recovery Guide with 5 key phases that could help you plan and keep your ACL recovery on track and achieve your ACL rehabilitation goals.

About Brett Mitchell

Our missions is to provide ACL Knee Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation information to improve the health and wellbeing of people who have injured their Anterior Cruciate Ligament and have undergone surgery or are considering their options to increasing the functionality of their injured ACL knee. The information on our site aims to help people understand and manage their ACL knee injury. It does not replace care provided by medical practitioners and other qualified health professionals.

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Disclaimer – The information provided on this Site is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but no warranty as to the accuracy is given and each individual should not act on the basis of its contents whilst interpreting the materials without seeking assistance from a medical or healthcare professional to apply them to your individual circumstances. The information on this site is for information purposes only. If you have any concerns about your health, consult your general practitioner.