Background: Ambulatory surgical patients are advised to refrain from driving for 24 h postoperatively. However, currently there is no strong evidence to show that driving skills and alertness have resumed in patients by 24 h after general anesthesia. The purpose of this study was to determine whether impaired driver alertness had been restored to normal by 2 and 24 h after general anesthesia in patients who underwent ambulatory surgery.
Methods: Twenty patients who underwent left knee arthroscopic surgery were studied. Their driving simulation performance, electroencephalographically verified parameters of sleepiness, subjective assessment of sleepiness, fatigue, alertness, and pain were measured preoperatively and 2 and 24 h postoperatively. The same measurements were performed in a matched control group of 20 healthy individuals.
Results: Preoperatively, patients had significantly higher attention lapses and lower alertness levels versus normal controls. Significantly impaired driving skills and alertness, including longer reaction time, higher occurrence of attention lapses, and microsleep intrusions, were found 2 h postoperatively versus preoperatively. No significantly differences were found in any driving performance parameters or electroencephalographically verified parameters 24 h postoperatively versus preoperatively.
Conclusions: Patients showed lower alertness levels and impaired driving skills preoperatively and 2 h postoperatively. Based on driving simulation performance and subjective assessments, patients are safe to drive 24 h after general anesthesia.