New study aims to find out if concussions affect driving


A “first of it’s kind” study is going on right now in the Upstate as researchers try to understand concussions.

Spartanburg Regional’s Sports Medicine Institute is teaming up with Clemson ICAR to track concussion patients when they get behind the wheel.

The pilot study, which began in August, is still months away from being completed but so far the findings suggest concussions could lead to slower response times on the road.

Some day those results could impact how soon doctors allow patients to get behind the wheel.

Two weeks after Diana Distefano was in a car crash, she became one of the 15 Upstate concussion patients, so far to participate in the study.

In October she was rear-ended while sitting at a stop light by a driver going 50 miles an hour.

“I think I was blacked out for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then I opened my eyes, I saw the airbag and I was like I have to get out,” said Distefano.

She says she had no symptoms at first, but in the days following she says she became foggy brained.

Even 14 days later the ICAR simulator, which tests peripheral vision, and tracks eye, hand and feet movements, found Distefano’s response time was slowed.

Dr. John Lucas is the driving force behind the study.

“I think one untapped part of concussion research is getting back behind the wheel after a concussion. The number one killer of teenagers is motor vehicle accidents. The number one killer of NCAA athletes is motor vehicle accidents,” said Lucas.

He says he’s already seeing a driving deficit trend among study participants.

“The patients results will eventually be compared to the control group of 26 driving age students from a local high school and Clemson ICAR.”

Distefano is now back behind the wheel, with a whole new perspective.

“Even athletes have worse conditions than I had, and so I think it’s good to have this kind of study because then they’d realize maybe I really do need to take a little bit of a break here,” she said.

The study will likely wrap up in the spring. It’s funded by a Spartanburg Regional Foundation grant.