Driving with Diabetes: 10 Things You Need to Know

As anyone with diabetes knows, the disease can affect many different facets of your life — including driving. Although many people with diabetes can safely drive a car without any issue, there are instances where having diabetes can cause problems with vision and loss of consciousness. It’s essential to be aware of these issues and to take the appropriate safety precautions, both before you get behind the wheel, and while you’re on the road.

Ensuring your own safety, as well as the safety of others, is of the utmost importance. Here are 10 things you need to know when it comes to driving with diabetes.

10. Check Local Licensing Laws

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to look into your state’s licensing laws to make sure you’re driving legally. States do not ban people from driving simply due to diabetes, but certain states may have specific requirements if you exhibit complications or certain symptoms. In Michigan, for example, you must get a medical exam and submit a medical evaluation form if you have lost consciousness due to a medical condition in the past six months. Keep in mind that laws can vary significantly from state to state, so it’s crucial to visit your local licensing agency to learn what you need to do for legal licensing.

Photo: Flickr/Oregon Department of Transportation

9. Always Wear Identification

When you drive, be sure to wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace. If you’re in an accident, or if you lose consciousness when your car is parked, this ensures that emergency responders can identify that you have diabetes and provide treatment accordingly. Don’t simply rely on a medical ID card; wallets and purses are too easily separated from you, particularly in emergency situations.

Photo: Flickr/State Farm

8. Check Your Blood-Sugar Levels First

If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you check your blood-sugar levels before you get in the car. This ensures that you notice dropping sugars before they cause symptoms, and it reduces the chances of an unexpected attack on the road. If you notice that your sugars are low, it’s important to treat them. Wait 15 minutes, and then test again before you start driving.

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7. Understand Your Personal Hypoglycemia Indicators

If you have a new diabetes diagnosis, or if you have experienced difficulty recognizing the signs of hypoglycemia in the past, it’s important to hold off on driving. Since symptoms can escalate quickly, you could become a danger on the road without realizing it. Work with your doctor and loved ones to keep a log of your symptoms and hypoglycemic attacks until you can identify the warning signs immediately. For example, some common early indicators are dizziness, shakiness, irritability, and hunger. Do not drive until you can spot the early symptoms.

Photo: Flickr/Julian Gonzalez

6. Keep Snacks in the Car

Since your blood-sugar levels can drop unexpectedly, you should keep a supply of snacks on hand in the car. Focus on rapid-acting carbohydrates, such as hard candy, fruit juice, or soda. Another great option is glucose tablets or glucose gels, which fit easily in your glove compartment. Speak with your doctor to decide the correct amount of food or glucose to take when you notice early signs of hypoglycemia. Pull over to eat your snacks, wait 15 minutes, and test your blood sugar to make sure that it’s within your normal range.

Photo: Flickr/Hajime NAKANO

5. Plan Well

For people with diabetes, planning is a crucial part of safe driving. If you know you’re going to get behind the wheel, pay close attention to the things that can affect your blood sugar, including meals, snacks, workouts, and alcohol consumption. When in doubt, check your sugar levels before leaving. For long road trips, map out the route, plan lunch stops, note any cellular dead zones, and identify safe places to get off the road in case the need arises. It’s also a good idea to test your sugars regularly to keep tabs on your levels.

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4. Carry Testing Supplies

Each time you get in the car, you should have your diabetes testing supplies and insulin. By ensuring that your testing supplies are always with you, you can check levels quickly before and during a drive. Don’t leave testing equipment and supplies in the car between drives, however, as temperature changes can damage them.

Photo: Flickr/Alisha Vargas

3. Monitor Your Vision

Diabetes can cause vision problems, including cataracts and damaged blood vessels in the eyes. These conditions can make driving difficult and dangerous, so even if you haven’t had vision problems in the past, it’s important to get regular eye exams. It’s also a good idea to be on the lookout for temporary vision issues, such as blurring, which can be caused by low and high blood sugar. If you have any problems with vision, even if they’re minor, stop driving and see your doctor.

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2. Don’t Drive With Leg or Foot Complications

Diabetes can cause a variety of complications that can make driving dangerous. One of the biggest issues is nerve damage to your feet and legs, which may present itself as weakness or a numb feeling. Without full sensation in your lower extremities, it can be difficult to maintain control over a vehicle. If you notice any signs of leg and foot problems, it’s important to cease driving and visit your doctor.

Photo: Flickr/Timo Newton-Syms

1. Understand Work-Related Driving Rules

If your job involves having a commercial driver’s license, you may need to meet additional licensing and safety requirements. This is determined by federal law, state law, and the nature of your professional driving. If you only drive within your state, individual state law applies. If you do any interstate driving, however, insulin usage becomes an issue. If you use insulin, or if you are switching to an insulin treatment, you may need to apply for a diabetes exemption. For Type 2 diabetes, you must be on insulin for at least one month and demonstrate stable control before you can apply; if you have Type 1, that period is extended to two months. Check with your company and your CDL licensing agency for specific requirements.

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Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t drive, and many people with diabetes are able to continue driving regularly and safely. But careful planning is necessary when it comes staying in control behind the wheel. Keeping a firm handle on your health and well-being is your top priority.

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