Getting your driver’s license in the US is an exciting milestone unlike any — it gives you the freedom and independence to go wherever you want, whenever you want. No more waiting for the bus! No more having to call a cab! But learning how to drive or parallel park is one thing, and fully realizing that the lives of your passengers rest in your hands is another. You know you’re ready for this responsibility if you’ve already cultivated a good diabetes management habit — responsibility to others starts with being responsible for yourself.
Many people with Type 1 have been able to successfully obtain their licenses and maintain them. Here’s a quick guide to what you may expect at the US Department of Motor Vehicles. For specific state-by-state guidelines, consult your DMV for the latest and most accurate information or enter your state in the ADA’s database for driver’s license laws affecting those with diabetes.
Depending on your state, your application form is probably going to ask if you have any medical condition that might affect your driving behavior. You might be asked specifically if you have diabetes. While this can sound like an unfair question, you will be given a chance to prove that you can be a good driver. Paying attention to the wording of the question will help you — if it asks if you’ve ever lost consciousness, but you’ve never had a hypoglycemic episode, then you can safely answer, “No.” Otherwise, if they want you to specify your type of diabetes, you’ll have to answer accordingly.
The next step in most states’ applications is having your physician fill out a form or statement attesting that any medical condition you have will not affect your ability to drive safely. This is where your history as a responsible Type 1 diabetes patient counts the most. Your physician is going to be asked if he or she has any reason to be concerned about you driving. Some questions may likely be about the following:
- Loss of consciousness
- Insulin use
- Foot and hand problems (like neuropathy)
- Vision problems (like retinopathy)
The frequency within a timeframe (say, in the last six months) is also going to be under consideration. So if you’ve since been able to maintain your diabetes and your physician knows this, it’s unlikely that the medical evaluation should become a hindrance at this point. The biggest preventative for getting your license due to diabetes would include a severe hypoglycemic episode that caused unconsciousness and possibly seizures. The timeframe and frequency in which this may have occurred would also be a contributing factor. Sometimes an optometrist is brought in to evaluate vision, but this is rare and is usually done if the applicant shows signs of an inability to operate a vehicle safely.
If your application is denied and you think you have good cause (such as, if you can show that your diabetes is under control), most states allow you to appeal the decision. You’ll likely have to request for a court hearing within a few days of the denial though. Remember, driving regulations are subject to state laws and can vary.
If your application is approved, congratulations! Here are some quick tips to make sure you continue to drive safely and be able to keep your driver’s license:
- If you’re going on a longer trip, it’s advisable to check your blood glucose level before you head out. (In some countries like England, it’s mandatory.) Do not drive if your blood glucose is not in a safe range.
- For longer journeys, plan your stops in advance and pull over every 1-2 hours to make sure your BGL is under control.
- For shorter trips, your usual blood glucose monitoring should be adequate. As always though, keep a supply of familiar and healthy snacks inside your car for treating lows. Make sure some of these are not perishable, can be kept in sight and easily accessible.
- If you experience any symptoms of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia while driving, pull over as soon as you can safely do so. It’s better to be sure than sorry, especially if you’re just starting out. Don’t go on the road again until you’ve verified that your BGLs are in safe range and that the symptoms have subsided. Remember that on long trips, common lethargy that people experience can potentially mask hypoglycemia.
Many, many people with diabetes are able to enjoy driving privileges, and indeed depend on them everyday to go to work or school, just like anyone else. There is no reason why having Type 1 should prevent you from driving, as long as you manage your diabetes and maintain full control behind the wheel.
Disclaimer: The above guidelines are meant to serve only as suggestions and not legal advice.
Read The Driving Diabetic by Makaila Heifner.