A single episode of hypoglycemia doesn't mean it's not safe for you to drive. But two or more episodes of severe hypoglycemia in a year may indicate that you're not able to safely operate a motor vehicle. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing such an episode while you are behind the wheel.

Before anything else, it's important to consult with your doctor to determine the cause of the hypoglycemia. For example, it's possible that you may have a concurrent infection or illness or started taking a new medication that's responsible and the doctor may need to adjust your insulin regimen.

If your doctor is unable to identify any modifiable or treatable cause of your hypoglycemic episodes, you might benefit from a Blood Glucose Awareness Training (BGAT) class. During class, you'll learn about situations that can lead to severe hypoglycemia, such as not eating frequently enough; how to recognize the signs of an impending episode; and what to do to prevent it.

Studies have shown that BGAT participants have fewer collisions and moving vehicle violations than their counterparts who haven’t taken the class. If a class is not offered near your home, ask your doctor for a referral to a certified diabetes educator who can also review this information with you.

Following are several other safety precautions worth taking if you're at risk for hypoglycemia while driving:

  • Test your blood glucose before driving and at regular intervals during a trip that lasts more than 30 to 60 minutes. Have a glucometer with you in the car. If your glucose level is less than 90 mg/dL, consuming a carbohydrate before you start will help avoid a drop during the drive.
  • If your blood glucose level is low, treat it immediately. But don't drive until your blood glucose level is in a safely acceptable range and you’re able to think clearly. This may take 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Always have appropriate snacks with you. These include a quick-acting source of sugar, such as juice, non-diet soda, hard candy or dextrose tablets, and snacks that contain complex carbohydrate, fat and protein, for example, cheese and crackers.
  • Stop the vehicle as soon as you experience any of the symptoms of low blood glucose. Once you're safely off the road, check your blood glucose and treat appropriately.

Other conditions

Although the ADA position statement focuses on hypoglycemia, it also notes that other chronic complications related to diabetes, such as diabetic retinopathy or neuropathy that affects your legs, feet or hands, also can impair your ability to drive safely. Good control of your glucose can help reduce the risk of developing these complications.

Regular evaluations by your ophthalmologist will help uncover any sight-related problems. Similarly, your endocrinologist or neurologist can provide guidance on driving with diabetic neuropathy.

Publication Review By: Rita Rastogi Kalyani, M.D., and Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 25 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 25 Jul 2013