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Driving and diabetes

If you drive, having diabetes doesn’t automatically mean you can’t anymore. 

There are many myths about driving and diabetes. Do you automatically lose your licence when you’re diagnosed? Do you have to jump through hoops to keep hold of your licence? Yes, restrictions on people with diabetes may be higher than with people who don’t have diabetes, but the situation may not be as bad as you think.

We've got all the facts here on:

Only people who use insulin have to tell the DVLA (called the DVA in Northern Ireland) that they have diabetes, with a few exceptions. And out of those people, around 97% of applications are successful and they can carry on driving on a restricted licence. This usually has to be renewed every three years. These rules can be complicated, so we've explained what you need to know if you drive a car or motorbike (a Group 1 licence) or a car or lorry (a Group 2 licence) in our guide to diabetes and your driving licence.

Driving and preventing hypos

The most common reason for people with diabetes to lose their licence is hypos – and, in particular, severe hypos.

Hypos (or hypoglycaemia) can happen when your blood glucose level (also called blood sugar) is too low, usually below 4mmol/l. This can happen if the balance of the medicine you take, the food you eat and the physical activity you do sometimes isn’t right, amongst other things.

Hypos can make your eyes go blurry, make you feel tired and you can lose concentration. All of which can affect your ability to drive.

But not everyone with diabetes is at risk of having hypos. It can affect people who take certain medication to manage their diabetes, including insulin and sulphonylureas. Speak to your healthcare team if you’re not sure whether you’re at risk of having them and what you can do to prevent them. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t delay or miss meals and snacks.
  • Take breaks on long journeys.
  • If your blood sugar level is 5mmol/l or less, eat some carbs before driving.
  • If your blood sugars are less than 4mmol/l – don’t drive until you have treated the hypo and your blood sugar is under control.
  • Keep hypo treatments to hand in the car.
  • Check your blood sugar levels before driving and every two hours on long journeys.

If you have a hypo when you’re driving

If you have a hypo while driving, the law says you have to stop the vehicle. You have to:

  • Switch off the engine, remove keys from the ignition and move from the driver’s seat.
  • Take fast-acting carbs, like glucose tablets or sweets, and some form of longer-acting carbohydrate.
  • Don’t start driving until 45 minutes after your blood sugar level has gone back to your ideal range as you need to give yourself time to regain focus.

If you’re struggling to control your hypos, talk to your healthcare team about whether you should be driving. And check out our information on the DVLA’s driving laws for people with diabetes. If you’ve lost awareness of your hypos, then you shouldn’t drive at all.

Check your sugar levels before driving

If you usually monitor your blood sugar levels, you must check them before driving and every two hours during a long journey.

You can use a finger-prick test, a flash glucose monitor or a continuous glucose monitor to check your sugar levels before you drive. These rules recently changed, meaning drivers with diabetes now have more choice in how they check their sugar levels.

But you still need to check you blood sugar levels with a finger-prick test if:

  • your sugar level is 4mmol/l or below

  • you have symptoms of a hypo

  • the glucose monitoring system gives a reading that doesn't match up with the symptoms you're having (for example, they feel the symptoms of a hypo but the reading doesn't show this).

You helped us campaign to change these rules, to help make life easier for people with diabetes who check their sugar levels to drive. If you want to get more involved in campaigning for better diabetes care and support, join us as a Diabetes Voice. Together, we can make change happen.

Driving and eye problems (called retinopathy)

Retinopathy is when there’s damage to the retina (the 'seeing' part at the back of the eye) and can cause sight loss. People with diabetes are more likely to get eye problems as a complication, because it’s linked to high blood sugars.

If you start to develop eye problems, you should let the DVLA know. This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get your licence taken away. It will depend on the stage your eye problems are at. You may need to attend a special eye test to assess your range of vision. This will be done at an opticians near you that the DVLA will recommend. The DVLA will also fund this, so you don’t have to worry about cost.

Some eye problems are reversible, so if you do need to stop driving for a bit, you may have the chance to reapply for your licence if your condition gets better. Talk to your healthcare team if you’re unsure.

Driving and other diabetes complications

Neuropathy affects your nerves and can cause you to lose feeling in your hands and feet, as well as other parts of your body. In severe cases of neuropathy, you should ask your healthcare professional or the DVLA for more advice.

Heart complications caused by diabetes can affect your licence, but your specialist heart team will advise you on this. 

What if I lose my licence?

Having your licence taken away can be very stressful. It can cause a great amount of inconvenience and upheaval. However, in most cases you will be able to reapply after a certain period of time providing your condition has improved.

The date that you can reapply will be on your notice of refusal and you will be able to apply up to eight weeks before this date.

Insurance

Most car insurance suppliers will not penalise people with diabetes by charging them higher premiums. Be sure to complain if they do, and if you’re still not satisfied then try another company.

You will have to declare your diabetes as a ‘material fact’ when applying for the insurance. We’ve got lots more information about insurance and diabetes to help you.

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