Driving with Diabetes

Dipping sugars and driving don't mix

IleneBy Ilene Raymond Rush

February 2013 — A recent article in the New York Times reports a story about a man who was found by the police pulled over to the side of the road, slumped behind the wheel of his car, incoherent. Roused by the officers, he resisted their requests to leave his car, leading them to arrest him for drunk and disorderly conduct. Despite his wearing a bracelet that identified him as a person with diabetes, the police tried to frisk and handcuff him — and in the process, broke his wrist.

Hypoglycemia can lead to "confusion, delayed reaction, visual disturbances, or loss of consciousness," reports the Times. Even in the absence of low blood sugar, people with diabetes may have "impaired vision or nerve function in the feet, which can affect driving."

According to the Times, people with diabetes are 12 to 19 percent more likely to have a car accident. And yet, a study quoted in the article shows that of 202 people taking insulin, 60 percent never test their blood sugar levels before driving. Few doctors warn patients of the dangers of mixing hypoglycemia with driving.

As a person with type 2 diabetes, I will testify that there are few things as frightening as having a fast drop in blood sugar, even when you aren't behind the wheel of a car. The feelings of disorientation and discomfort can be intense, which is why I've learned to keep containers of glucose tabs with me at all times.

Except, of course, when I don't.

As in last week, when a drop in sugar levels led me to ditch my exercise class in a panic to head out to the car for a glucose infusion. When all I found was an empty container, I thought nothing of starting up my Prius and driving up the road to the nearest Target to grab some new sugar tablets. With my number at 42 and dropping, I stood in a center aisle and gobbled tablets until I felt my sugars climb back to a normal range.

It was not the smartest move, and if I had been in my right and stable mind, I probably would have headed back upstairs to the gym, lowered myself to a cushy mat, and waited while one of my workout buddies fetched the tablets for me.

Such is the clouded thinking of a falling blood sugar.

But there may also be something else at work here, a blend of independence and stubbornness. In my zeal to not be identified as a person with a chronic condition, I had told no one in my exercise class that I had diabetes. My exercise leader and fellow workout crew had no idea. Only when the teacher phoned me next week to find out why I had bolted the class did I reveal my secret.

Which I realized, as my sugar slowly rose in the Target aisle, was a second dumb move. What if I had passed out on the gym floor? What if I, like the man in the Times article, had to pull over to the side of the road and subsequently passed out behind the wheel?

Let's be clear, the vast majority of accidents have nothing to do with diabetes or hypoglycemia. But if you take insulin or sulfonylureas like the drug glyburide, you may want to take care.

Click here to read more of Ilene's Second Chances columns here.

Read Ilene's blog.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 13, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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