Drivers with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage that affects the legs, feet, arms or hands) drive more slowly and are at heightened risk for losing control of their vehicle compared to those without the condition, but they can improve with practice, according to a small new study from the United Kingdom.
Researchers assessed ankle and foot strength and driving performance in 32 licensed drivers — 11 with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, 10 with diabetes only, and 11 without either condition. Those with neuropathy had weaker muscles and decreased ankle proprioception (awareness of positioning and movement), contributing to an increase in errors and slower driving speeds.
“Interestingly, despite the fact that they were driving more slowly, the duration of loss-of-control events that occurred during the first drive was significantly higher in the [diabetic peripheral neuropathy] group compared to the healthy group,” the researchers noted. However, “after one drive, the [diabetic peripheral neuropathy] group was able to greatly reduce the loss-of-control events, indicating residual ability for improving driving performance, and the potential for practice or structured training to recover the lost ability in a functional way.”