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Call to end driving discrimination for people with diabetes

Diabetes UK welcomes a new study showing that, as a group, people with diabetes who use insulin do not have more car accidents than those without the condition.

People with diabetes are subject to tighter regulations, and in some instances to discrimination, when it comes to being granted driving licences. This is because it is perceived that they could be more likely to cause accidents as they have an increased risk of hypoglycaemia.

Researchers found the rate of road traffic collisions in patients with insulin treated diabetes to be lower (with 957 accidents per 100,000) than those who did not have the condition (1469 accidents per 100,000) when the group was considered as a whole. When the groups were stratified according to age there was no significant difference in accident rate between the two groups at any age.

Campaigning against discrimination

Diabetes UK believes that having diabetes does not mean people should give up driving but they do need to plan in advance before getting behind the wheel. It is also campaigning for an end to discriminatory driving laws that affect those on insulin who drive larger vehicles and some passenger carrying vehicles.

“As long as the diabetes is well-controlled and there are no complications that would impair someone’s safety as a driver – and your doctor confirms this if asked – there is no reason why people with diabetes should not be issued with a licence", said Simon O’Neill, Diabetes UK Director of Care, Information and Advocacy.

Restrictions affect livelihoods

"Current restrictions affect the livelihood of people with diabetes, as for example, they cannot become bus drivers or lorry drivers and some might be prevented from becoming taxi drivers due to local authorities’ policies. 

“Diabetes UK recommends that people with diabetes check their blood glucose levels before they get behind the wheel and regularly during the journey to avoid having a hypoglycaemic episode. They should also avoid long or stressful trips if they are tired and consult their doctor or diabetes specialist nurse if they are concerned about driving.”

The study, carried out at the Peninsula Medical School and Peninsula Research and Development Unit in Exeter, looked at the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary database on road traffic collisions and the district retinal screening database to create a record of road traffic collisions in the diabetes population.

No greater risk of accidents

“We wanted to look at the assumption that people with insulin treated diabetes might be more likely to cause road traffic accidents because they have an increased risk of hypoglycaemia", said one of the researchers, Doctor Kathryn Lonnen, SpR in diabetes and endocrinology.

"We found that this group of people as a whole poses no such risk, implying that insulin is not a good surrogate of increased risk. Of course it is still essential to have individual risk based assessment for people with diabetes, insulin treated or not, to make sure that their driving experience remains safe and hazard-free.”

Further advice

Diabetes UK advises that people who have just started taking insulin, have difficulty recognising the early symptoms of hypoglycaemia, have problem with their eyesight that cannot be corrected by glasses or have numbness or weakness in the limbs from neuropathy (diabetic nerve damage) should not drive.

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