Diabetes and driving
Thursday, 4 March 2021
Diabetes may affect your ability to drive safely. The good news is being proactive with your health can reduce the risks, allowing you to drive with confidence. Protecting your safety, and that of others, on our roads is the responsibility of all drivers.
The main road safety risk for people with diabetes who take insulin or other specific types of medication is unexpected or severe hypoglycaemia (very low blood glucose levels), but there are other things to consider. The effect of diabetes on other parts of your body, such as your eyes and nervous system, can affect driving ability.
Good vision is vital when driving. Your ability to see road hazards, read signs and traffic signals, navigate traffic and merge, can be affected by very small vision changes. Changes to vision may happen so gradually that you do not notice them at first.
If your blood glucose levels are up and down a lot, you may have trouble with focus and blurred vision. This can vary from day to day.
Diabetes can damage the very small blood vessels at the back of your eye and this is called retinopathy. There are usually no early warning signs of retinopathy. You may not notice changes or vision loss until the retinopathy is very advanced.
Cataracts can affect eye sight by causing clouding of the lens. People living with diabetes are five times more likely to develop cataracts, and at an earlier age, than those without diabetes.
Early diagnosis of eye problems and early treatment can stop the damage and prevent blindness.
Having a diabetes eye check is easy. The check is done by an optometrist, takes around half an hour and can be bulk billed.
If you live in a regional or remote area, your health facility may have access to a special retinal camera which can be used for diabetes eye checks.
It is important to tell your eye health professional that you have diabetes so they can to do the appropriate checks. If they find any signs of diabetes-related eye damage, they may monitor it, or arrange a referral to a specialist, called an ophthalmologist, for treatment.
Driving is a complex activity that requires both mental and physical skill. Damage to the nerves in the extremities such as the feet and hands, is known as peripheral neuropathy and this can affect your driving ability. Diabetes is not the only cause of peripheral neuropathy, but it is the most common.
If damage to nerves causes numbness in your feet, you may have trouble gauging pressure on the pedals in your vehicle. Peripheral neuropathy can also cause muscle weakness, foot deformities and problems with coordination. These may all affect your ability to respond and brake quickly in an emergency.
Just as with diabetes-related eye problems, you may not be aware you have nerve damage until it is detected by your health professional during routine foot checks.
Protect your eyes and your feet by having regular check-ups and taking steps to manage your blood glucose levels, blood pressure and blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides).
If you smoke, get help to quit. Stay active and eat a healthy diet.
Talk to your health team to find out when you are due for essential health checks and continue to safely enjoy driving.
We understand there is a lot to manage when you have diabetes. The KeepSight program has been set up to help you remember when your diabetes eye checks are due by sending you a reminder. To find out more or to register for KeepSight, speak to your eye care professional or visit the KeepSight website.
By Nicole McClure RN CDE