Driving With Diabetes

Most people with diabetes are able to hold a full driving license and carry on driving – there are however a number of ways in which diabetes can potentially impair driving, this can depend on the medication used to treat your type of diabetes, how controlled it is and whether or not you have any other health conditions which may affect your ability to drive.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes describes a life-long health condition which causes the individual’s blood glucose (sugar) levels to become too high. When we eat and drink, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose which is released into the blood to give us energy. In order for this process to work, the body relies on a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin allows the glucose in the blood to be absorbed by cells and then used for energy. When there is no insulin or not enough of it, the glucose is unable to reach the cells and remains in the blood. Too much glucose in the blood can cause a range of different health problems, which can cause serious long-term health effects and damage to vital organs.

Diabetes is generally divided into two different types:

Diabetes Type One

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin – it is a type of auto-immune disease where the immune system mistakes the cells in the pancreas and attacks them, preventing them from producing insulin.  Although diabetes type 1 can develop at any age, it typically appears during childhood. It is a life-threatening disorder – people with diabetes type 1 must take insulin (usually in the form of an injection) every day in order to stay alive.

Diabetes Type Two

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. This type of diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the cells of the body don’t react to insulin and can’t absorb it. It is often associated with obesity, being physically inactive, genetics and the environment. Diabetes type 2 is a serious health disorder which can cause a range of complications if left untreated. It can occur at any age but is more common in older people.

Symptoms of diabetes

Although symptoms of diabetes type 1 develop much more rapidly, typically over the course of a few hours or days (especially in children), the initial symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 are similar and include:

  • Feeling excessive thirst
  • Passing urine more often – especially at night
  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent bouts of thrush and itching around the genital region
  • Cuts which takes longer to heal
  • Blurred vision

Complications

If left untreated, diabetes can cause a wide range of chronic serious complications to the body potentially affecting the kidneys, cardiovascular system, the eyes, the feet, the nervous system, the mouth, sexual health as well as being linked to certain types of cancer.

Hypoglycaemia (Hypos)

Other complications can arise as a result of the medications used to treat diabetes – a serious complication is hypoglycaemia. This occurs when the body’s glucose levels drop too low – in a person without diabetes, the pancreas will detect the low glucose level and stop producing insulin, however in a person with diabetes, the insulin they inject, or medications they take, will continue to work, even when the glucose levels are too low.

Early warning signs of low glucose levels include:

  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling shaky or trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Turning visibly pale
  • Tingling lips
  • Excessive tiredness

If left untreated, hypoglycaemia can progress to produce more serious symptoms such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Feeling excessively sleepy
  • Slurred speech/lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Passing out/collapsing

Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS)

HHS is a life-threatening complication which only occurs in people with diabetes type 2, it is caused by excessively high glucose levels often as a result of illness (infection), not taking diabetes medication and dehydration.

Do The DVLA Need To Be Informed About Diabetes?

The DVLA must be informed about any health condition which may affect their ability to drive. The rules for diabetes vary depending on the type of treatment the person needs for their diabetes and the type of license they require (car, motorbike, lorry etc.) Not everyone needs to tell the DVLA about their diabetes, however, there are a number of circumstances where the DVLA must be informed by law. For more detailed information, read here.

How Could Diabetes Affect Driving?

There are two main significant factors caused by diabetes which could affect the ability to drive safely; the first relates to long term complications and the second to acute complications.

Long Term Complications and Driving

Damage to the nerves, neuropathy, can affect sensations felt in the hands and feet, in particular. In more severe cases, nerve damage can result in amputation. This may mean that vehicle adaptations and an adapted vehicle license from the DVLA may be necessary in order to continue driving. Problems with the eyes (retinopathy) as a result of diabetes can affect vision – if you start to develop problems with your sight, the DVLA must be informed, they may recommend a specific eye test. Cardiovascular complications can also affect your ability to drive – the DVLA must be informed of any changes.

Acute Complications and Driving (Hypos)

If the individual with diabetes is at risk of hypoglycaemia (hypos), the DVLA must be informed. A severe hypo whilst driving can cause an accident which endangers lives. People at the highest risks of hypos include those taking medication such as insulin, sulphonylureas or glinides. It is important that anyone at the risk of a hypo is familiar with the symptoms and takes precautions to prevent this from happening.

  • Before setting out, check your glucose levels – if they are under 4mmol/l, treat the hypo and check the levels are above 5mmol/l before setting out
  • Keep blood glucose levels above 5mmol/l whilst driving
  • Ensure you are carrying spare test strips and have your meter before leaving
  • Check blood glucose levels at 2-hour intervals
  • Always keep treatment/snacks for hypo within easy reach
  • Take regular breaks
  • Do not miss or delay meals or snacks

If a hypo occurs whilst driving, by law you must stop to avoid causing an accident. After treating the hypo, wait 45 minutes for glucose levels to return to normal and test to ensure, before commencing driving again.

How We Can Help

All Shropshire Mobility is a long-standing family business which specialises in vehicle adaptations. If you require adaptations to your vehicle as a result of diabetes-related complications or for any other reason, don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss your requirements. We offer a wide range of specialist adaptations which have enabled a great many people to continue driving and retain their independence.