With technological advances and a deeper understanding of diabetes management, people with diabetes have very few limitations. And fortunately, driving a car is not one of them. With the right preparations, anyone with diabetes is able to safely operate a motor vehicle. We spoke with Joslin diabetes educator Erin Kelly, RN, BSN, Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) in the Adult Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, for some helpful guidelines for safe driving with diabetes.
Always Check Blood Glucose Levels Before Operating a Car
Before getting behind the wheel, always do a blood sugar check. “We like to see blood sugars above 100 before driving,” says Kelly. It is unsafe to operate a car if your blood sugar is low as you might experience delayed reaction time, blurry vision, and other impaired cognitive abilities. On the other hand, watch out for high blood sugars. According to Kelly, people can feel tired and sluggish if their blood sugar is too high. Another concern is that if you get into an accident while your blood sugar is low, you could lose your license, so make sure to always keep your meter or CGM close by while driving and check each time you get in the car.
Watch for Low Symptoms
As mentioned above, low blood sugar poses the biggest danger to driving with diabetes.
Low blood sugar symptoms may vary for each individual, but hypoglycemia has the same impact on driving abilities. “If you’re low, your brain does not work properly,” says Kelly. “You won’t have the same decision making skills that are necessary for driving a car.” If you do experience a low blood sugar while driving, pull over immediately to treat the low and wait to resume driving until your blood sugar is at least over 100.
Keep Your Car Stocked
Whether the driver or a passenger has diabetes, stash plenty of low treatment in your car in case of an emergency. Kelly suggests keeping low treatments that are in reach and easy to open, such as juice or glucose tablets. “We always recommend that you have something fast acting within arm’s reach if you are driving,” says Kelly. “Don’t keep it in the glove box, trunk, or backseat, but either next to you or in the center console. That way you if you are going low, you can just grab it.” Peanut butter, nuts, or protein bars are also perfect longer-acting snacks that can be easily stored in a car.
Going on a Road Trip? Plan in Advance
If you’re hitting the road this summer for a trip, it’s always a good idea to plan in advance. Like any trip, extra diabetes supplies should be on your checklist, but you should also stock up on extra snacks and drinks beforehand. If you are the one driving, you will also need to check your blood sugar levels more frequently. “Even if you think your blood sugars are normal, you would need to stop every so often to check and make sure your glucose is stable,” says Kelly. “We recommend checking at least every hour and half to two hours on a long drive.” Remember to take breaks during long car rides and eat something if your blood sugar is borderline 100 or below.
Keep Cool This Summer
When it comes to summer and diabetes, the two don’t always get along. The heat can have damaging effects on diabetes devices and medications. “Insulin is the biggest concern with regard to heat,” says Kelly. When exposed to extreme temperatures above room temperature, it becomes ineffective. “Never leave your insulin in the car or in direct sunlight exposure,” recommends Kelly. If you’re going to be in the car for a long period of time, there are portable coolers for storing your insulin. At the same time, insulin should never be frozen. If you put insulin next to an ice pack, make sure to have a towel separating the two.
For more information about driving with diabetes or to answer any questions about diabetes management, contact our Certified Diabetes Educators at 617-309-2780 or make an appointment with our Adult Clinic at 617-309-2440.