Having diabetes can affect your life in ways you never expected. One of those involves safety while you are driving. This is especially true if you have Type 1 diabetes or require insulin for your Type 2 diabetes, because it means you inject (or infuse or inhale) insulin every day.
Some states ask medical questions such as whether the license applicant has ever received treatment for a condition that can cause unconsciousness or unawareness, while others ask directly if a person has diabetes. States may also accept reports from physicians, police officers, and others, concerning individuals they believe are potentially unsafe behind the wheel. In some cases, the potential driver is required to have a medical evaluation prior to being issued a license.
Many commercial drivers have to report things like diabetes and insulin use along with other medical conditions before they can get their license.
After having Type 2 diabetes for more than 15 years, I know that this condition can affect your ability to drive. Here are some reasons, and what you can do about them.
Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) can make your feet lose feeling, meaning you may not feel the gas pedal and brake as well as you used to. It can lead to missing the brake or your foot slipping.
If this is happening to you, talk to your doctors. Do not simply continue to drive and hope nothing bad happens. You are responsible not just for your own safety, but for that of your passengers and all the other people on the road.
Another issue: If you have had diabetes for many years, you may have hypoglycemia unawareness, which keeps you from knowing your blood sugar has dropped low. A sugar low while you are driving will make you a danger to yourself and others.
For this reason, it is a good idea to check your glucose level before you drive anywhere. Carry your glucose meter with you everywhere, and bring snacks too.
Becoming drowsy during the day is a red flag for sleep apnea, a condition that often goes undiagnosed and that affects many people with diabetes. If you know you get drowsy behind the wheel, get a sleep test to determine whether you have sleep apnea, and if so, get it treated before you continue to drive. Sleepy drivers cause accidents.
Untreated high blood sugar also causes sleepiness during the day and wakefulness at night (due to frequent trips to the bathroom). This is another dangerous situation that needs to be taken care of if you want to be safe on the road.
As we age with diabetes, one possible complication is damage to our eyes. It is quite possible to lose eyesight so slowly you are not aware until you have an accident while driving. This is why yearly eye exams are absolutely necessary.
If you have diabetes and are not getting your eyes checked, you should not be driving. It is as simple as that. Your eyes are extremely vulnerable to damage from diabetes complications.
One of the hardest things I had to do to my aging parents was to make them stop driving. It made them angry. It would make me angry too. But their safety was too important. Neither of them realized how bad their eyesight had become.
Stay safe behind the wheel
So if you want to drive, make sure you get a dilated eye exam every year. Keep your doctor visits up to date. Check your glucose before you drive, and every hour or so on long trips. Always bring your blood sugar testing kit and some snacks with you.
Pay attention to how it feels when your blood sugar is low. Pull over if you detect signs of hypoglycemia so you can check your glucose level. Driving is stressful, and a sugar low can strike suddenly. If it is low, eat or drink a carbohydrate snack, wait 15 minutes, and check your blood sugar again before you get back on the road.
It is a good idea to have someone with you in the car, but that is not always possible. Bring a friend or family member along as often as you can. It will help keep you safe. And always wear your medical alert bracelet or necklace. Always.