Safe Driving with Diabetes
Having diabetes does not mean that you have to give up driving but it does mean that you need to think ahead before you get behind the wheel.
Diabetes and driving
Having diabetes does not mean that you have to give up driving but it does mean that you need to think ahead before you get behind the wheel. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA, in Northern Ireland), want to ensure that everyone on the road is fit to drive.
Changes to your general health can affect your ability to drive such as; visual problems or laser treatment, loss of muscle strength or balance due to a stroke or other serious medical conditions. Some of the complications associated with diabetes, such as loss of sensation in the feet due to nerve damage, frequent or severe hypoglycaemia (low glucose levels) can also affect your ability to drive and this might affect the type of driving licence you have.
Informing the DVLA/DVA
Since your treatments and circumstances may change over time, you need to check to see whether you need to tell the DVLA or DVA about those changes. Your diabetes care team may also advise you to notify the DVLA/DVA about your fitness to drive. The best way to do this is to contact them directly. It is your responsibility to tell them; however, if you are unable to do this for any reason, your doctor has an obligation to do so on your behalf.
Recent changes to the law resulting from a European Directive have led to the introduction of stricter rules for drivers of cars and motorcycles (Group 1 vehicles). You need to say you are treated with insulin when you apply or reapply for a licence.1
People treated with insulin can now apply for a licence to drive a lorry and passenger carrying vehicles (Group 2 vehicles) as long as certain conditions are met.
If your diabetes is treated by insulin, you should check your glucose level within two hours of starting to drive and every two hours whilst you are driving. You must be safely pulled over and stopped when checking your glucose.
The DVLA advise that if blood glucose is 5mmol/l or less you should take carbohydrate before driving. If it is less than 4mmol/l do not drive.
If you have poor hypo warning signs, or have frequent hypos, you should probably not be driving because of the risk to yourself and others. Discuss this with your diabetes healthcare team.
You must, by law, inform your insurance company that you have diabetes whatever medication you take.
Frequently asked questions
How will diabetes affect me learning to drive?
The law does not stop you driving just because you have diabetes, but the DVLA / DVA may need further information from you and special conditions may apply.
- If you have diabetes that is treated with insulin (with or without tablets)
- You are legally required to notify the DVLA You must complete a form provided by the DVLA / DVA called 'Diabetic I'
- You must give permission for the DVLA to contact your GP
- Your licence (or provisional licence if you have not driven before) will be issued for one, two or three years
If you want to drive a vehicle that weighs over 3.5 tonnes, or if you want to drive a vehicle that carries more than 9 passengers, then special rules apply. Contact the DVLA / DVA.
What about insurance?
When you apply for insurance, you will need to tell your insurance company that you have diabetes. Many insurance companies no longer consider diabetes an extra risk, but failure to disclose any change in your health could invalidate your cover.
If you are refused insurance or charged a higher premium, shop around. You could also challenge the company. Under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), insurers can only refuse cover or charge more for cover if they have evidence of increased risk.
Diabetes UK may be able to help you with their motor insurance quote line (Freephone 0800 73 1431) although they cannot guarantee to get you the cheapest quotes in every case.
When you're driving
Driving with low blood glucose levels is always very dangerous, since it can impair your concentration, and it is especially important to avoid hypos.
Test your blood glucose levels before your journey and allow yourself plenty of time. It's generally recommended that you should stop at least every two hours to avoid tiredness, and this is a good opportunity to test again. If you are low, have a snack. Never delay a meal, and carry plenty of snacks with you, just in case.
If you do feel a hypo coming on:
- Stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so
- Have a sweet drink or a glucose sweet immediately. Then eat a biscuit or another starchy snack
- Remove the ignition key and move across to the passenger's seat. Avoid any suggestion that you are in charge of the car - in theory you could be prosecuted for driving while under the influence of drugs (insulin)!
- Do not drive again for at least 40 minutes, until your blood glucose levels stabilise