Driving With Diabetes: Preparation Is Key

Parallel parking, left turns ... and glucose monitoring?

For a diabetic seeking a driver's license, a good bill of health is just as important as passing driver's ed.

A history of poor glucose control can be a red flag for diabetics, as extreme blood sugar levels can adversely affect driving.

And new drivers must be particularly aware of these added medical factors.

According to Carol Grafford, president of the Michigan Organization of Diabetes Educators, or MODE, blood glucose readings below 70 mg/dL can cause slower response times and affect a person's ability to make good road choices.

Other common symptoms for hypo- and hyperglycemia include feeling drowsy and confused, having blurred vision and being disoriented -- a hazardous list of problems for anyone who finds themselves behind the wheel of a car.

"It would be fair to say that having a very low or very high blood sugar is equivalent to drunk driving," she said.

Fortunately, a low blood-sugar incident while driving is a problem that can be avoided.

"People with diabetes, even people who take insulin, should have no problems with driving," Dr. Irl Hirsch, professor of metabolism, endocrinology and nutrition at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle told ABCNEWSs.com's OnCall+ Diabetes Resource. "The key to driving and diabetes is being responsible, no different for any other chronic medical condition."

And being responsible, he said, means that those with diabetes should be certain to check their blood glucose levels before driving -- especially if they take insulin.

"What we encourage our patients to do is check the blood sugar if it has been more than one hour after eating," he said. "By the same token, if they are driving for more than an hour, they should stop the car and check the blood sugar to make sure it is not getting low."

Identifying the Problem

But dangers do exist. Mark Lippe, founder of Dad and Daughter (DAD) Innovations, knows this fact well. When he was 19 years old, Lippe became hypoglycemic while he was driving. He blacked out and hit a tree.

Though he wasn't badly hurt, he said responding officers "thought I was on drugs or had been drinking. ... I had three tickets in a matter of minutes!"

So three years ago, when his daughter was diagnosed with diabetes just shy of her 16th birthday, Lippe said they decided together that she needed some form of identification identifying her as a diabetic driver was necessary.

"The first thing she said was, 'Put something on the car!'" Lippe recalled.

Today, Lippe and his daughter run DAD Innovations. The company markets diabetic key chains and window decals. Like a Medic Alert bracelet for the vehicle, DAD products are used to notify others of the driver's condition in an emergency.

"A lot of kids today don't like to wear any ID. ... This is one more thing that would help identify the situation," Lippe said.

Thinking Ahead

For many new drivers, it is easy to assume there will be time to stop for food if hypoglycemia begins to set in. However, Lippe warned, "by the time you get in line at a McDonald's it could be too late. ... You should always carry something fast-acting."

"Teens especially tend to believe they are fine, whether they [have a blood sugar of] 45 or 445," Grafford said. "Even though a lot of diabetics feel fine at 65 or even below, they're not fine," she said.

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