Driving With Diabetes: Preparation Is Key

Passing driver's ed may be the least of a diabetic driver's concerns.

ByABC News
January 9, 2008, 1:53 PM

Jan. 9, 2008— -- 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."

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.