Most people with diabetes can hold a driving licence and can carry on driving. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about driving if you have diabetes.
"As someone with diabetes, it's really important that I'm aware of the rules around driving in the UK" - Mim
How diabetes can affect driving
There are two main things about diabetes that can affect your ability to drive safely:
- If how you treat your diabetes means you’re at risk of having a hypo (where your blood sugar drops below 4mmol/l).
- If you develop diabetes complications that make it harder for you to drive – like problems with your eyes (retinopathy) or nerve damage (neuropathy).
If these things affect you, you need to know what the rules are and what you need to tell your local driver and licensing authority.
The rules are different depending on what vehicle you want to drive. Here we’ll talk mainly about what you need to know if you want to drive a car or motorbike (called a Group 1 licence).
To drive a lorry or larger vehicle, you’ll need a Group 2 licence. There are different rules for this type of licence and they can be more complicated when you have diabetes.
These rules come from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland. We use DVLA throughout this information, to make things simpler.
And remember, you need to know these rules if these things could affect you in the future if not now.
As we've said, if how you treat your diabetes means you're at risk of hypos, then this can affect your ability to drive safely.
So what makes you at risk of having hypos? Hypos can affect people who take certain medication to treat their diabetes, including insulin and medications like sulphonylureas. And some hypos can be really severe where you need help to treat them. Speak to your healthcare team if you’re not sure whether you’re at risk of having these and what you can do to prevent them. If you already know you're at risk of hypos, follow our checklist each and every time you drive.
However you treat your diabetes, use our table explaining the rules for your driving licence based on each type of treatment.
Retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels supplying the eye’s retina (the seeing part at the back of the eye) and it can cause sight loss. It’s linked to high blood sugars and high blood pressure so it’s more common in people with diabetes.
If you start having problems with your eyes, you need to let the DVLA know and you may need a special eye test. It’ll be done at an optician near you that’s recommended by the DVLA and they’ll pay for it.
Some eye problems can be treated successfully which means you can reapply for your licence. Ask your healthcare team if you’re not sure.
Other diabetes complications that can affect driving
Neuropathy affects your nerves. Damage to your nerves can mean you lose feeling in your hands and feet, as well as causing problems in various other parts of your body. If it’s severe then you should ask your healthcare team or the DVLA for more advice.
If neuropathy or an amputation mean you need an adapted vehicle, you’ll have to apply for an adapted vehicle licence from the DVLA.
Heart complications can affect your ability to drive and being able to hold a licence. Your specialist heart team must advise you here.
Other conditions the DVLA need to know about include things that could cause loss of consciousness or concentration, like sleep apnoea. This can make it harder for you to concentrate in the day due to extreme sleepiness. Talk to your healthcare team or sleep clinic about this.
They also need to know about any problems you develop that make it difficult to negotiate traffic or act quickly. For example a stroke, which is a cardiovascular complication, is when blood can't get to the brain and it's starved of vital oxygen and nutrients. This can happen if your blood vessels are damaged or blocked and can make it harder for you to react quickly.
We have lots of information to help you understand when to talk to the DVLA about your driving licence – we’ve created tables about Group 1 and Group 2 licenses to help you find the information you need quickly and easily.
Follow this checklist each and every time you drive. It’s how you reduce your risk of a hypo at the wheel. And it’s how you can carry on driving safely.
- Know the symptoms of a hypo – if you’ve lost hypo awareness, you can’t drive.
- Keep spare test strips in the car and bring your meter with you.
- Check your blood sugar levels before you set off and every two hours on long journeys.
- Five to drive – your blood sugars have to be 5mmol/l or above before you drive. If they’re between 4mmol/l and 5mmol/l, eat some carbs before heading out.
- If they’re under 4mmol/l – treat your hypo and check your levels again before driving.
- Always keep hypo treatments where you can easily reach them in the car.
- Take breaks on long journeys.
- Don’t delay meals or snacks.
Remember, the rules are more complicated if you want to drive a large vehicle, with a Group 2 licence.
If you usually check your blood sugar levels, then you must follow the rules about when to check them. This means checking them within two hours of driving – however short the trip. On longer journeys, you must check them every two hours.
These rules are only about checking for low blood sugar levels – the DVLA don’t have any specific limits on high blood sugar levels.
Speak to your healthcare team if you’re not sure whether you should be checking your blood sugars – it depends what medication you’re on.
If you start having a hypo while driving
It’s the law that you must stop. And it’s what you must do to avoid any risk of an accident. So find somewhere safe to pull in as soon as possible.
- Pull over safely. If you feel like your blood sugar is low then make sure you pull over as soon as possible.
- Switch off the engine. Take the keys out and move from the driver’s seat – if you don’t, the police can think you’re still in charge of the car and you could be prosecuted.
- Take fast-acting carbs, like glucose tablets or sweets, and some longer-acting carbohydrates too, like plain biscuits or crackers.
- Don’t drive until 45 minutes after your blood sugar level has gone back to 5mmol/l or above. This is the time it takes for your concentration to go back to normal.
If you’re struggling with hypos, talk to your healthcare team about whether you should be driving.
You don’t need to let the DVLA know that you’ve had a hypo – only if it’s a severe hypo (where you need help to treat it). Severe hypos are a lot more serious so the rules are more detailed. We have more information about severe hypos if you don't know what they are.
Car insurance and diabetes
Most car insurance companies won’t charge more if you have diabetes. You should complain if they do and if you’re still not happy then try somewhere else.
You’ll have to declare your diabetes as a material fact when applying for insurance. We’ve information about insurance and diabetes to help you.
Driving for work when you have diabetes
If you drive as your job or use a car to get to work, you’re bound to worry about how changes to your driving licence could affect your job.
We have lots of advice and information on driving and work to help you understand what your rights are.
What if I lose my licence?
If you have your licence revoked then you can nearly always reapply for it after some time. It depends why you lost your licence. The most common reason is because of severe hypos, which is where you need help and can’t treat it on your own.
You can apply for a new licence up to eight weeks before the date given on your refusal notice. What happens then will depend on why your licence was taken away. We have lots more information on what happens if you lose your licence.
More information and support on driving
Our helpline has trained advisors who can help with specific problems or questions.
Our online forum is also a useful way to get tips and advice from others with diabetes.