DIABETES & DRIVING
If you have got diabetes, you need to be aware of the risks involved when you’re driving. If you know the risks, you can take steps to manage them.
If your diabetes has just been diagnosed and treatment is still being adjusted, you may not be fit to drive just yet. Check with your doctor.
Hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose)
Low blood glucose levels are dangerous for drivers with diabetes. If you’re taking insulin or tablets for diabetes (except Metformin), it’s very important that you avoid low blood glucose levels, which can greatly impair your driving and cause crashes.
Hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose)
High blood glucose levels could leave you feeling unwell or tired, and may affect your ability to drive safely. You should avoid driving while you’re hyperglycaemic.
Passenger services and heavy vehicles
People with insulin-dependent diabetes are not normally allowed to drive taxis, heavy trade and passenger service vehicles.
If a diabetes specialist wrote on your behalf to the Chief Medical Advisor of the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), they might make an exception.
Strict conditions would apply.
Precautions while driving
- If your diabetes is well controlled you can drive a private car safely. However, there are times when you need to take precautions.
- Always have meals and snacks before and during long journeys. It’s safest not to delay meal times. Take regular short breaks from driving.
- Check your blood glucose levels regularly. If you feel that your blood glucose is low, stop driving and treat with a quick acting sugar, e.g. three glucose tablets. Follow this up with a plain muesli bar (not recommended on a regular basis) or biscuits. Wait until the sugar has started to work before you start driving again.
- Keep a supply of plain muesli bars, biscuits, glucose tablets, dried fruit and long lasting fruit juice in your pocket or in the glove box.
- Don’t delay treating low blood glucose levels. The brain becomes confused when the blood glucose reach low levels. Be aware of your own warning signs. Although a mild hypo may not seem to impair your driving, it’s vital to act before your judgment is affected.
- If you experience hypoglycaemia unawareness (hypos without warning signs), it may be unwise for you to drive. You should discuss this with your doctor or diabetes nurse specialist.
- Remember that changing a car tyre or pushing a car could result in low blood glucose levels.
- Be prepared!
- If you have diabetes, alcohol can be particularly dangerous because it can cause hypoglycaemia or worsen its effects. We recommend that people with diabetes avoid consuming any alcohol if they’re going to drive.
When you shouldn’t drive
In some situations you may need to refrain from driving. If you have a mild hypoglycaemic episode we recommend that you don’t drive for at least an hour, to give your brain time to recover.
If you have a severe hypoglycaemic episode (when you need someone else’s help to deal with it), you shouldn’t drive for 24 hours. If you have several hypoglycaemic episodes you should talk to your doctor before you return to driving.
If you have a severe hypoglycaemic episode while you’re driving, whether you’re involved in a crash or not, you shouldn’t drive for at least a month. It’s likely you’ll need to be reviewed by a specialist before you can safely return to driving, and you need to talk to your doctor.
Your driving ability could be affected by long-term complications of diabetes, such as eyesight deterioration and the loss of normal sensation in your feet.
Check with your doctor.
Some drivers with diabetes may be issued with a licence that has certain conditions attached. The conditions will depend on the type of licence (classes and endorsements), how the diabetes is controlled, any history of hypoglycaemic attacks, compliance with medications and an assessment of any medical complications that are commonly associated with the diabetes.
The NZTA decides the type of conditions to impose.
Insulin and tablets for the control of diabetes are classified as drugs under the Land Transport Act 1998.
You may be prosecuted under this Act if you’ve been misusing or abusing diabetes medications and your driving results in crashes or injuries. For a case to proceed, however, there would need to be proof that the way you’d used the drugs was contrary to medical advice.
Where can I find out more?
Don’t hesitate to see your doctor or your diabetes educators if you have any questions.
A handbook that includes a chapter on diabetes, Medical Aspects of Fitness to Drive, has been issued to all doctors.
For more information contact the NZ Transport Agency.
Alternatively, visit the NZ Transport Agency website www.nzta.govt.nz or freephone 0800 699 000