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Driving With Diabetes

For many people, driving means being free to go wherever they want, whenever they want. When you’re behind the wheel, though, that freedom comes with responsibilities. What does this mean for someone with diabetes?

Driving-related risks

According to guidelines published by Diabetes Canada, one major risk associated with driving is hypoglycemia that’s not detected in time. It causes a variety of symptoms that make traffic violations and accidents much more likely: tremors, loss of focus, drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness, and so on.

The key, as always, is proper blood glucose management.

If your treatments are limited to lifestyle and diet adjustments, or if your medication doesn’t involve taking insulin, you can drive safely—as long as you’re alert. Generally, insulin-dependent people can also drive their cars provided they’re under a health professional’s care.

Still, one’s ability to drive a vehicle must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Note that drivers with diabetes, depending on the province, must undergo a medical examination at least once every two years.

In addition, driving ability may be affected by other diabetes-related conditions, such as neuropathy (damage to your eyes, kidneys, nerves, etc.), motor or sensory function impairment, or cardiovascular disease.

A few precautions

  • Before leaving, watch for hypoglycemia symptoms. Make sure everything’s fine by testing your blood glucose levels.
  • If you’ve got a long drive ahead of you, bring water and snacks, and take breaks to stretch your legs and stay alert.
  • Keep your blood glucose meter and your equipment in a dark, cool place.

It’s the law!

In Canada, the law requires everyone to report any medical condition that may affect their driving.

In Quebec, all drivers must declare their state of health to the SAAQ when applying for a new driver’s licence or renewing their current one, or within 30 days of any change in their health that could affect their ability to drive.

Careful: making a false or misleading statement may result in your driver’s licence being suspended with a $300 to $600 fine.

What about commercial driving?

In Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes is allowed to drive a commercial vehicle, even if they are insulin-dependent. However, their driver’s licence will have to be marked with a W, which means they will be barred from driving in the US.

Diabetes should in no way restrict your freedom. But when you take the wheel, remember that your health can have an effect on both your own safety and that of others.

References:
Diabetes Canada, “Driving & Your Rights”: http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/know-your-rights/driving-your-rights. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Driving and Diabetes”:  http://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/understand-diabetes/practice/my-rights/conduite-automobile-et-diabete. Accessed June 12, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Hypoglycemia in an Individual with Diabetes”: https://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/living-with-diabetes/care-and-treatment/hyper-hypo-glycemia/hypoglycemia-low-blood-sugar-in-an-individual-with-diabetes. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Houlden, Robyn L. et al. “Diabetes and driving: 2015 Canadian Diabetes Association Updated Recommendations for Private and Commercial Drivers,” Canadian Journal of Diabetes, Canadian Diabetes Association, vol. 39, p. 347–353: https://www.diabetes.ca/getmedia/b960981b-a494-497e-ae5a-37c73d3261ab/2015-cda-recommendations-for-private-and-commercial-drivers.pdf.aspx. Accessed June 12, 2017.
Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, “State of health and driver’s licences”: https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/en/drivers-licences/state-health-licence/. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, “Politique – Conditions médicales assortissant le permis”: https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/documents/publications/politique-conditions-medicales.pdf. Accessed June 29, 2017.

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