An eye-popping 34 million Americans live with type one or two diabetes. Although diabetic Americans typically lead perfectly normal lives, they sometimes have special considerations when behind the wheel. If a diabetes patient plans to get their license or move to a different state, they may want to analyze state-specific restrictions or guidelines for driving with diabetes.
Type one or type two diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, in any demographic. Type one diabetes, an autoimmune disease that usually begins in childhood, causes the patient’s immune system to interfere with insulin production. Type two diabetes refers to insulin resistance that typically starts in adulthood. Regardless of which type you have, your state may have particular guidelines for diabetic drivers that could restrict driving based on your answers to certain questions on your driver’s license application. To ensure you’re prepared for each step of the licensing process, we outlined what diabetes patients and their caregivers should know about driving with diabetes.
Driving with Diabetes: What Families Should Know
Many diabetic Americans operate motor vehicles without any complications. However, certain symptoms associated with diabetes can cause difficulty behind the wheel. For instance, diabetes can cause nerve damage in your feet and legs that can interfere with feeling the pedals in a car. Other diabetic patients experience poor vision that can make driving more difficult. And hypoglycemia – or low blood sugar – brought on by diabetes can cause brain fog, which can be dangerous while driving.
Because of these symptoms, some states have safety restrictions or guidelines that apply to all diabetic drivers. These guidelines are meant to keep diabetic drivers and others safe on the road. Specific guidelines for diabetics differ by state and can include:
- Vision tests
- Driving examinations
- Medical evaluations
- Stipulations regarding the type of vehicle that may be driven
- Restrictions regarding driving a commercial vehicle or receiving a commercial driver’s license
You may want to keep these guidelines in mind if you attempt to get your license for the first time or update your license after moving to a new state.
Americans getting their driver’s license for the first time may be navigating a series of daunting firsts: enrolling in driver’s education, taking the driving test, buying car insurance for the first time, and more. Amidst all this, diabetic Americans may find it daunting to navigate their special guidelines. One way to ensure you have the most positive experience possible is to review your rights about disclosing your diagnoses before enrolling in driver’s ed. Equipping yourself with knowledge can help you have a seamless experience when getting your driver’s license.
Know Your Rights and Licensing Requirements
To ensure that you can secure your driver’s license, you may want to study your rights as a diabetic driver. You may also want to understand the licensing requirements in your state before making a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
When filling out paperwork at the DMV, you may be asked to answer specific questions about diabetes or any other medical conditions that you may have. Your answers to these questions could determine whether or not you will be eligible to get your license. If a question asks you if you have diabetes, you need to answer yes. However, per the recommendation of the American Diabetes Association, “if a question asks if you have a condition that has caused you to lose consciousness, and you have never experienced severe hypoglycemia, you could answer no.”
This evaluation will help the state determine whether your medical condition prevents you from “using reasonable and ordinary control while driving.”
Many states reserve the right to deny someone a driver’s license or suspend it due to certain medical conditions. If a driver has diabetes in North Carolina, they will be asked to submit a medical evaluation from a physician. When a physician discloses that a driver has diabetes, a panel of physicians will analyze the driver’s symptoms to determine whether the driver poses a danger to other motor vehicle operators. That said, in states like North Carolina, review boards will not automatically consider diabetes patients more dangerous than other drivers. However, those who use insulin or have had recent experiences with hypoglycemia may be considered more dangerous on the road.
Can your license be suspended due to diabetes? In some states, yes. However, many states also have a process for appealing license suspension.
Before going to the DMV to get your license, you may benefit from carefully reviewing the specific licensing requirements in your state.
Tips to Prepare for Driving with Diabetes
Diabetic drivers usually have several more considerations than the average teen pursuing their driver’s license. However, this extra preparation should not discourage motivated diabetics from getting their licenses. Millions of diabetic Americans drive safely every year. Adhering to a checklist of safe practices behind the wheel can help you stay safe. Before heading to the DMV to take the driver’s test, you may want to review the following tips for preparing to drive with diabetes.
- Monitor your blood sugar. If your blood sugar drops lower than 80 mg/dL, you may need to eat a snack and wait for your blood sugar to normalize.
- Keep your meter close by. Make sure you have the tools necessary to check your blood sugar at any moment.
- Store items that can treat low blood sugar – such as a snack or glucose tablet — in your vehicle.
- Allow a close family member or friend to track your mobile device or let someone know where you’re going when you leave and arrive at your destination. In the event of an emergency, your family will know where to find you.
- Make sure you have proper auto insurance coverage. In the event of an accident, top-notch car insurance will give you peace of mind by helping pay for repairs or replacements after a covered loss. If you’re a guardian attempting to add a teen driver to your car insurance, you may be worried about cost. Keep in mind that many providers offer significant discounts to good students.
- Check your blood sugar during your drive. If your blood sugar is low, you may need to pull over and have a snack.
- Pull over your vehicle if you start to feel weak, lightheaded, sweaty, hungry, shaky, or disoriented. You can check your blood sugar and eat a snack if it’s low. Make sure to wait a few minutes to allow your food to kick in before starting back on your way.
- Keep your identification with you. In the event of an emergency, police will be able to tell that you are a diabetic driver.
- Make regular eye appointments to ensure your vision is up to par. Diabetes can interfere with your vision. Regular eye appointments will give you the peace of mind that your eyes are road-ready.
- Talk to your doctor. A trusted medical professional can give you specific behind-the-wheel tips based on your health information.
Technology and Wearables
Wearable technologies have played a vital role assisting millions of diabetic drivers. If you are a diabetic driver looking for ways to stay safe behind the wheel, you may want to look into using the following tech:
- Continuous Glucose Monitors and Personal Diabetes Managers (PDMs): These devices can be worn on the body to measure glucose levels continuously.
- Insulin pumps: These devices inject insulin into a diabetic patient’s body through a thin tube placed under the skin.
- Apps to track blood sugars: Dozens of reliable apps allow diabetics to share health data between your devices, remind you to check your glucose levels, and help you track your medication intake.
- Diabetic watches: Special watches are designed to initiate a painless electric shock that reads a patient’s glucose level in seconds.
While driving with diabetes may seem intimidating, getting your license allows a type of freedom that many diabetic Americans find meaningful. At the same time, driving with a medical condition comes with a degree of risk, and each patient has their own risk tolerance. As a result, diabetic patients and their doctors will arrive at different conclusions when weighing the pros and cons of getting their license.
If you do decide to get your license, it may be wise to review your rights before taking your driving test. Your answers often determine whether or not state officials will approve your license application. Reviewing our tips and tricks and your state’s regulations before making a trip to the DMV may be helpful.
Once you have your license, you might want to establish personal habits that will make driving easier and less stressful. To stay safe behind the wheel, many diabetics keep in touch with their primary care physician and optometrist for checkups and safety tips. Many diabetic drivers also use health-monitoring devices, such as insulin pumps or diabetic watches, and keep snacks in the car to correct for hypoglycemia.
Whatever your decision, involving your family and your physician in the process can help you stay safe.