Driving with Diabetes: Safety Precautions

People with diabetes are free to drive unless diabetes complications impair their ability to drive safely.

Complications that negatively affect drivers with diabetes include symptoms of low or high blood sugar, vision problems, and nerve damage in the hands, legs, or feet.

Risk Factors

More restrictions are typically given to drivers who manage diabetes with insulin even though in some studies insulin use is not correlated with a higher driving risk.

Other research shows that the one factor most often linked to driving collisions is a recent history of severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) related to any type of diabetes.

Diabetes Driving Precautions

In light of what is known about the risks of driving with diabetes, these eight precautions from the American Diabetes Association are offered to help those with any diabetes type navigate the roads safely.

  1. Before getting behind the wheel, check your blood glucose level. Do not drive if your blood sugar is too low since your ability to focus and make good decisions will be impaired.
  2. Check your blood sugar level at regular intervals on long drives. Your health care team can help you determine how often you need to monitor.
  3. Have your glucose meter and a store of snacks with you when driving; snacks should include a quick-acting sugar source.
  4. Pull over at any sign of hypoglycemia and check your blood sugar level. Signs include blurry vision, rapid heart rate, sudden nervousness, shakiness, as well as fatigue, headache, confusion, dizziness, hunger, pale skin, sweating, or chills.
  5. If your blood glucose is low, consume a fast-acting sugar snack such as hard candy, regular soda, juice, or glucose tablets. After waiting 15 minutes, check your blood sugar and treat again if necessary. When your blood sugar reaches the target range, eat a more substantial snack containing protein. Continue driving only after the target range is reached.
  6. Should you experience hypoglycemia unawareness, stop driving and get in touch with your health care team. Hypoglycemia unawareness is experiencing low blood sugar without warning. It is unsafe to drive until awareness is regained. Glycemic awareness training with your diabetes care team may help.
  7. Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, is less of a driving risk but extreme hyperglycemia can cause safety problems. If you experience hyperglycemia often, talk to your doctor to determine the point when high sugar levels might begin to impair your driving safety.
  8. Have yearly eye exams to detect any diabetes associated vision problems that may compromise safe driving.

Special Assistance

People experiencing other diabetes complications that impair driving such as sensation problems (hands, legs, feet), vision changes, or an amputation can ask their health care team for a referral to a driving specialist.

A specialist assesses an individual’s driving ability and makes recommendations, suggests precautions, and can offer training to improve current driving skills. You can also contact the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists by calling 1-800-290-2344.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, diabetes.org
Photo Credit: Rimo Newton-Syms / flickr creative commons

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