There is good reason to be concerned about diabetes and driving. Certain diabetic symptoms can make driving very dangerous for the driver and everyone else on the road. Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about diabetes and driving so you can be aware of all the dangers and how to prevent them.
Out of the nearly 9 million people in the United States diagnosed with diabetes, most of them will seek or currently already have a driver’s license. If you live with diabetes or know someone who does, it’s important to review this information about diabetes and driving. Not only are those with Type 1 diabetes at risk, but those with Type 2 diabetes should also be weary about sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
There are quite a few things to learn about diabetes and driving, and this guide will serve as a resource for people with diabetes and parents of teens with the condition as well.
Safety Concerns with Diabetes and Driving
When those with diabetes get sudden bouts of low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycema, they can become confused, experience delayed reactions, visual disturbances, or even loss of consciousness. Additionally, people with diabetes might have impaired vision or nerve function in the feet, which can make the combination of diabetes and driving very dangerous. Imagine losing the ability to use your feet when you need to step on the brakes—scary!
Did you know drivers with diabetes are 12 to 19% more likely than other drivers to have a car accident? What makes that fact even scarier is that a study of 202 people with diabetes who were taking insulin showed that approximately 60% of participants never tested their blood glucose levels before driving. So, in essence, these drivers had no idea if they were at risk to have a glycemic episode while behind the wheel.
As you can imagine, a hypoglemic episode can result in a number of dangerous outcomes for the driver. Not being able to see or use your feet, becoming extremely confused, and losing consciousness are all serious risks you’re taking when you drive as a diabetic—especially without checking your glucose levels before putting the car in drive. There are many reasons to be weary about driving as a diabetic, so we want you to be fully informed. (Read our guide to driving with autism here.)
Can Diabetics Drive?
There’s no doubt that driving with diabetes certainly poses some risks. But is it legal for diabetics to drive? If you anticipated this answer to be complicated, you were right. Because each state has its own driving laws, each state also has its own stance on diabetes and driving. Some states apply diabetic driving to all drivers with diabetes, whereas other states only apply the laws to diabetic people with these medications or symptoms:
- Insulin use
- Loss of consciousness
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Foot problems (neuropathy)
- Vision problems (retinopathy)
But it is difficult to know if diabetics can drive in your state without doing pointed research about driving with medical condions in your area. To make it easier, luckily, you can enter your state in the drop-down menu on diabetes.org, and the website will show you laws and policies that apply to diabetes and driving in your specific state. Thank goodness for technology, right?
Scientific Research About Diabetes and Driving
Modern science has allowed us to see more accurately into the life of a diabetic, thus giving us insights we need to make smart, safe decisions as drivers. If you’re still curious what driving as a diabetic looks like, here are some statistics to help paint the picture.
- In a recent Scottish study, only 62% of healthcare professionals suggested that insulin-treated drivers should test their blood glucose before driving
- In a large international study, nearly 1/2 of drivers with Type 1 diabetes and 3/4 of those with Type 2 diabetes had never discussed driving guidelines with their physician.
- The most significant factor associated with driving collisions for diabetic drivers appears to be a recent history of severe hypoglycemia, regardless of the type of diabetes or the type of treatment used. (Source)
- 4 studies have demonstrated that Blood Glucose Awareness Training (BGAT) reduces the occurrence of collisions and moving vehicle violations while also improving judgment about whether or not to drive while hypoglycemic
As this data suggests, there is a lot to be said for awareness. Simply improving the awareness about the dangers of diabetes and driving with both drivers and doctors can help decrease the amount of collisions caused by diabetic drivers.
Additionally, a prospective multicenter study of 452 drivers with type 1 diabetes followed monthly for 12 months, 185 participants (41%) reported a total of 503 episodes of moderate hypoglycemia (where the driver could still treat his or herself but could no longer drive safely).
In this study, 23 participants (5%) reported 31 episodes of severe hypoglycemia (where the driver was unable to treat him/herself) while driving. On the other hand, the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) group reported 11 motor vehicle accidents in 714 episodes of severe hypoglycemia, a rate of 1.5%.
These statistics show that though diabetic driving can be dangerous and may impair your motor skills, you do not have a high chance of getting in a car crash. Of course, this depends on how each individual handles the situation, but these are the generalities put forth by the studies.
Keeping Diabetic Drivers Safe on the Road
Whether you’re reading this guide for yourself or someone else, here are some safe driving tips for diabetics that could be life-saving.
- Pass the test. Check your blood sugar level before getting into the car every single time—no exceptions.
- Treat low levels. Even if you’re eager to get to your destination, it’s wise to treat low blood glucose levels before getting behind the wheel. After treating it, check again in 15 minutes. Do not start driving until your blood glucose is in the target range.
- Slow down. If treating your low blood sugar means you’ll be late, get used to it. Call whoever it is you’re meeting up with and explain why you’ll be running a little late. They will understand. (If they don’t understand, they don’t deserve to be in your life! That extra 15 minutes could save your life.)
- Always have the tank full. Both your car and your stomach. Stock your vehicle with plenty of healthy, non-perishable snacks and fast-acting sugars. You’ll also want your diabetes supplies close by for a quick grab if needed. But rememeber: test strips and insulin can be damaged by hot and cold temperatures, so never leave these supplies in the car.
- Stop and reset. If you are feeling sick or low while driving, pull the car over immediately. Again, you are better safe than sorry. Take a quick moment to check your blood glucose and treat yourself. Wait 15 minutes, and check again to be sure.
- No anonymity. Never leace home without your medical ID bracelet or necklace and your driver’s license. You should never be driving without your medical ID. Kapeesh? Kapeesh.
If you have any additional questions about diabetes and driving, or you want to share your own experiences, please reach out in the comments section.