Millions of Americans live with the diagnosis of diabetes and the majority of them depend upon driving for local transportation for both pleasure and work. Of course, you do not have to give up driving if you have diabetes, and most people do it safely, but there are things to keep in mind before getting behind the wheel as there can be diabetes-related incidents.
How much diabetes affects driving largely depends on how well diabetes is controlled, what medication is used and whether there are any conditions or complications that can impair your ability to drive. In fact, there are two major concerns relating diabetes and driving – hypoglycemia and possible complications of diabetes.
Hypoglycemia is most important because it can impair the ability to drive safely and safety at wheel is always above all. If you use insulin or receive medications for diabetes, except Metformin, it is vital to avoid low blood glucose levels, as this can make it hard for you to concentrate and react to what is going on. You might not be able to see clearly and may even go faint behind the wheel.
Hyperglycemia is not so dangerous, but it can also leave you feeling unwell or tired, affecting your ability to drive safely.
If not well-controlled, over time diabetes can produce a set of vision problems that can affect driving. Nerve damage in the lower limbs can make it difficult for you to feel the pedals, leading to slower response time, such as when applying the brakes or accelerating.
In order to be safe on the road, it is necessary to take some precautions:
- Always check blood glucose before setting off. If it is lower than 80 mg/dL, have a snack and wait for 15 minutes. Then check it again. If the blood sugar is back to normal, you may take the wheel.
- Carry your meter and blood glucose strips with you. Regularly check your sugar during long drives to be sure it is not heading toward a low.
- Always have meals and snacks before and during long journeys. Also take regular short breaks from driving.
- Keep a supply of snacks for diabetics, such as muesli bars, dried fruit or fruit juice, in the glove compartment or anywhere within reach in your car.
- If you feel your blood sugar is getting low, stop driving and take some fast-acting carbohydrates, such as glucose tablets or cookies. Wait for it to start working before you begin driving again.
- Keep in mind that pushing a car or changing a tire can lead to low blood sugar. Be prepared.
- Never delay treating hypoglycemia. The brain becomes confused when blood sugar reaches low levels. Be aware of your signs:
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or confusion
- Irritability, shakiness or jumpiness
- Feeling as if you can’t see straight.
If you have hypoglycemia unawareness, a complication of diabetes in which your blood sugar falls dramatically with reduced or no warning symptoms at all, it can be particularly dangerous when driving. Talk to your thyroid specialist who may be able to teach you how to feel an episode coming on. Otherwise it can be unwise to drive.
Other situations when it is better to refrain from driving are:
- If you are newly diagnosed with diabetes and your treatment is only being adjusted.
- If you have had a severe hypoglycemic episode, you shouldn’t take the wheel for 24 hours.
- If you developed a long-term complication, such as eye-sight deterioration.
- If you developed feet problems, such as the loss of normal sensation in the feet.
- If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes that is controlled with insulin or glibenclamide, it may be better to refrain from driving for the period of child-bearing and 3 months after the delivery due to the risk of hypoglycemia.
While it is not difficult to stay safe when driving with diabetes, check with your doctor if you have any doubts.