Diabetes And Driving
Some states impose no driving restrictions on people with diabetes, while others ask drivers with diabetes about their condition, management of their condition, and whether or not they have or have had any diabetes-related problems that could impair their driving and judgment. How a person responds may result in license and/or vehicle restrictions. The American Diabetes Association released their recommendations for identifying and evaluating diabetes in drivers. They concluded that having diabetes should not be the sole reason to question a person's driving ability. Instead each person's driving acumen should be assessed individually taking their medical history and potential related risks into account. Driving safely and responsibly is ultimately up to you. Before getting behind the wheel, ask yourself:
How can having diabetes affect my driving?
In the short term, diabetes can make your blood glucose levels too high or too low. As a result, diabetes can make you:
- Feel sleepy or dizzy
- Feel confused
- Have blurred vision
- Lose consciousness or have a seizure
In the long run, diabetes can lead to problems that affect driving. Diabetes may cause nerve damage in your hands, legs and feet, or eyes. In some cases, diabetes can cause blindness or lead to amputation.
Can I still drive with diabetes?
Yes, people with diabetes are able to drive unless they are limited by certain complications of diabetes. These include severe low blood glucose levels or vision problems. If you are experiencing diabetes-related complications, you should work closely with your diabetes health care team to find out if diabetes affects your ability to drive. If it does, discuss if there are actions you can take to continue to drive safely.
What can I do to ensure that I can drive safely with diabetes?
- Do not drive if your blood glucose level is too low. The ADA recommends to always check your blood glucose before getting behind the wheel and never begin an extended drive when your blood sugar is below normal. Insulin and some oral medications can cause blood glucose levels to become dangerously low (hypoglycemia). If you drive while your blood glucose is too low, you might not be able to make good choices, focus on your driving or control your car. Your health care team can help you determine when you should check your blood glucose level before driving and how often you should check while driving.
- Make sure you always carry your blood glucose meter and plenty of snacks (including a quick-acting source of glucose). Pull over as soon as you feel any of the signs of a low blood glucose level. Check your blood glucose. According to the ADA, the driver should not drive until blood glucose is in a safely acceptable range, usually after 30 to 60 minutes because of delayed recovery of cognitive function.
- If your glucose level is low, eat a snack that contains a fast-acting sugar. These sugars can be found in juice, soda with sugar (not diet), hard candy, or glucose tablets. Wait 15 minutes, and then check your blood glucose again. Treat again as needed. Once your glucose level has risen to your target range, eat a more substantial snack or meal containing protein. Do not continue driving until your blood glucose level has improved.
- if you experience hypoglycemia without advance warning, you should not drive. Although most people with diabetes do experience warning signs of a low blood glucose level, talk to your health care team about how glycemic awareness training might help you better sense the beginning stages of hypoglycemia. If you have a history of severe hypoglycemia, your health care provider may encourage you to try a continuous glucose monitoring system. In extreme situations, high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) also may affect driving. Talk to your health care team if you have a history of very high glucose levels to determine at what point such levels might affect your ability to be a safe driver. The key to preventing diabetes-related eye problems is good control of blood glucose levels, good blood pressure control and good eye care. A yearly exam with an eye care professional is essential.
- Improving your driving skills could help keep you and others around you safe. Your diabetes health care team can refer you to a driving specialist If you are experiencing long-term complications of diabetes such as vision or sensation problems, or if you have had an amputation. This specialist can give you on and off-road tests to see if, and how, your diabetes is affecting your driving. To find a specialist near you, call the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists at 800.290.2344 or go to their website at http://www.aded.net/. You can also call hospitals and rehabilitation facilities to find an occupational therapist who can help with the driving skills assessment.
What if I have to cut back or give up driving?
You can keep your independence even if you have to cut back or give up on your driving. It may take planning ahead on your part, but planning will help get you to the places you need to go and to the people you want to see. Consider rides with family and friends; taxicabs; shuttle buses or vans; public buses, trains and subways; and walking. Also, senior centers and religious and other local service groups often offer transportation services for older adults in your community.
Who can I call for help with transportation?
- Contact your regional transit authority to find out which bus or train to take.
- Call Easter Seals Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation In Our Nation) at 800.659.6428.
Call the ElderCare Locator at 800.677.1116 and ask for the phone number of your local Office on Aging, or go to their website at http://www.eldercare.gov/.
1 - American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes - 2012. Diabetes Care. Volume 35, Supplement 1, Jan 2012. (Accessed 02/12)
2 - U.S. Department of Transportation. Driving When You Have Diabetes. (PDF) (Accessed 03/10)
Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. 4/08
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