Doctors are frequently asked by patients whether it is safe to drive with an upper limb immobilised in a cast. In the literature there are no objective measurements of the effects of upper-limb immobilisation upon driving performance. Eight healthy volunteers performed four 20-min driving circuits in a driving simulator (STISIM 400 W), circuits 1 and 4 without immobilisation and circuits 2 and 3 with immobilisation. Immobilisation involved a lightweight below-elbow cast with the thumb left free. Volunteers were randomised to right or left immobilisation for circuit 2, and the contralateral wrist was immobilised for circuit 3. Circuits included urban and rural environments and specific hazards (pedestrians crossing, vehicles emerging from a concealed entrance, traffic lights changing suddenly, avoidance of an oncoming vehicle in the driver's carriageway). Limb immobilisation led to more cautious rural and urban driving, with less adjustment of speed and lateral road position than when unrestricted. However when responding to hazards immobilisation caused less safe driving, with higher speeds, a greater proximity to the hazard before action was taken and less steering adjustment. The effects of restriction upon performance were more prevalent and severe with right-arm immobilisation. Upper-limb immobilisation appears to have little effect on the ability to drive a car unchallenged, but to adversely affect responses to routine hazards. Advice on ability to drive safely should be cautious, as the impact of immobilisation appears to be more subtle and wide ranging than previously thought.
- Upper limb