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HealthInfo Canterbury

Driving with diabetes

Driving is a complex skill, both physically and mentally. If you have diabetes, you may need to take extra precautions to make sure you're safe on the road.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)

If you take insulin or some types of diabetes tablets (not metformin), the main concern when driving is low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia or a hypo). This is where your blood glucose levels drop too low. This is usually at a blood glucose level below 4 mmol/l, but some people can have symptoms with blood glucose levels a little above this.

Even mild hypoglycaemia can affect your ability to drive safely. If you don't do anything about it, hypoglycaemia can cause you to pass out. You need to be aware of the risks involved and plan ahead before you get behind the wheel.

Other risks when driving with diabetes

Hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose)

Very high blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia) can also make you feel unwell or tired and may affect your ability to drive safely. You shouldn't drive if you're severely hyperglycaemic.

Long-term diabetes complications

Other concerns that can affect your ability to drive safely are the possible long-term complications of diabetes. These include eye problems, loss of sensation in your feet and heart problems.

Being newly diagnosed with diabetes

If you've just been diagnosed with diabetes and your treatment is still being adjusted, you may not be fit to drive just yet. Check with your GP or specialist.

How to avoid low blood glucose levels while driving

What to do if your blood glucose level gets too low while driving

Many accidents caused by hypoglycaemia are because drivers have kept driving and ignored their hypo warning signs, such as hunger, sweating and feeling faint. If you feel that your blood glucose is low while driving, take the following steps:

It may take up to an hour before your brain has time to recover.

When not to drive

Licence conditions

Sometimes a driver with diabetes may be issued with a licence that has certain conditions attached. The conditions will depend on:

The Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency decides your licence conditions.

Passenger services and heavy vehicles

People with type 1 diabetes are generally not considered fit to drive heavy trade vehicles, taxis, buses and other related vehicles. In exceptional circumstances, the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency may grant a licence after consultation with your GP and diabetes specialist. If you're granted a licence to drive any of these vehicles, strict conditions are likely to be imposed.

Misusing diabetes medications while driving

Insulin and tablets for controlling diabetes are classified as drugs under the Land Transport Act 1998. This means you could be prosecuted under the Act if you misuse or abuse diabetes medications and your driving results in a crash or injury.

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Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created December 2020.

Sources

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