For most people with diabetes (type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes alike), diabetes does not affect their driving. However, it is possible to experience diabetes-related emergency while driving—and that can affect your safety.
Most Americans need to drive. It is a necessity for work, food, socializing, recreation, medical care, shopping, and many other activities. As you live with diabetes, it is important to maintain this independence as much as possible. It is also important to be aware of a few diabetes-related driving risks to help you reduce the chances of diabetes unexpectedly interfering with your independence.
Low Glucose: Hypoglycemia While Driving
Most people with diabetes sense when their glucose levels are too low. You feel that hunger, headache, shakiness, weakness, sweating, and anxiety beginning to set in. You can feel the symptoms just as easily when you are driving.
Just as you keep snacks at home and at work, keep some candy, cookies, non-perishable juice boxes, or other carbohydrate sources in your car.
If you sense low blood glucose (blood sugar), do not hesitate to pull over and perform a blood glucose test. And then if you need to, eat a carb-rich snack. After a second blood glucose test confirms an acceptable reading, you can get back on the road—safely.
When Diabetes Threatens Your Vision
While you can quickly fix a low blood glucose situation, you will not be able to fix your eyes if diabetes starts to take your vision (that's diabetic retinopathy, a type of diabetic neuropathy).
If you are experiencing vision loss, talk with your doctor about a safe and responsible course of action. Rather than cutting off your driving privileges completely, he or she may recommend restrictions. For example, you may be able to drive during the day, while opting to leave night-time and low-light driving to others.
Owning the Choice to Stop Driving with Diabetes
A minority of people with diabetes have to stop driving. If you anticipate that diabetes may take your sight, hand-eye-coordination, or some other vital driving function, make a plan to stop driving at some point in the future. Owning the decision will help you feel more responsible and less helpless.
Even before you get to this point, choose the barriers—with input from your doctor and loved ones—that will help you decide to stop driving. This is especially important if you are an older person with diabetes.
Some barriers you could consider are:
When the time comes, you will feel less deprived of your driving rights if you've set the decision threshold in advance. The knowledge that you are making a responsible decision will help offset the disappointment of no longer being able to drive.
Responsible Driving with Diabetes
If you live with diabetes, driving provides you access to treatments, medication, and nutrition essential to your independence and health. Millions of responsible people with diabetes support public safety and their independence by knowing a few essentials about driving with diabetes.
Know how to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia so that you can prevent a hypoglycemic event while driving. Also, decide what criteria will make you stop driving if diabetes starts to interfere with your ability to drive safely.