Blood Sugars Behind the Wheel

Driving while living with Type 1 Diabetes can be a very frightful thing. I remember back to the days when I first got my license. I was super scared to hit the curb or the car in front of me… Let alone worry about what my blood sugar were doing. At that point in my life, I was still on insulin injections, and no CGM. I had less awareness with how I felt with high/low blood sugars. And my a1c was out of control!

Driving with Type One Diabetes | How to manage your blood sugar behind the wheel |

As I’ve gotten older and had more experience in driving with type 1 diabetes, I’ve learned when it is “ok” and when it is “not ok” to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. With a high blood sugar, I am really thirsty, but I feel ‘normal enough’ to drive. High blood sugars don’t mess with my vision either. With a normal blood sugar, obviously, I am fine. It’s with those pesky low blood sugars that I (and my family) worry about. Blood sugars can drop rather quickly, and if you don’t have a CGM to monitor your blood sugars, you might be miss a plummeting blood sugar before putting the car in drive.

A few years back, our local JDRF chapter asked me to make a special video to promote JDRF at Mercedes Benz, one of their sponsors. In creating and filming that video, I discovered why the owner of Mercedes Benz was so involved with JDRF. I learned the story of his nephew, and it hit really close to home:

The owner’s nephew was diagnosed with t1d around age 10. He kept his blood sugars in control, but occasionally would have a high or low… like any type 1 diabetic would. At about 16 years old, the newly licensed nephew was leaving practice at school and never checked his blood sugar. He got behind the wheel. His blood sugar had plummeted after practice, dropping severely low, and he blacked out for a moment while behind the wheel. He smashed that car into a tree, and later died from his injuries.

I think back to this story whenever I hear someone claim that diabetes “isn’t life-threatening” or “just keep your blood sugars in control and you’ll be fine.” It is impossible to understand unless you go through living with type 1 yourself.

One afternoon while in college, I had to take my grandpa to a doctors appointment. I was running around all day and hadn’t eaten much of anything. I was having issues ‘driving between the lines.’ He noticed I was driving really slow and told me to pull over. I checked my blood sugar and it was pretty low. We waited a few minutes for the glucose tablets to kick in, and then we were back on the road.

My biggest fear was getting my grandpa to his appointment on time. His biggest fear was making sure we got there in one piece. The fact that he could dramatically see a difference in my driving really put things into perspective. Does this happen a lot while I’m driving alone? Probably then. Not anymore.

The realization that he could see a difference in my driving got me into the habit of checking my blood sugar level before getting behind the wheel. Driving while being an insulin-dependent diabetic can be scary. You need to learn your limits and always carry extra snacks on hand. I’ve learned to keep snack bars in my bag, and a juice box (or two) in my glove box. Being prepared for the unexpected is the best way to manage your life with type 1 diabetes, and it never hurts to be overly prepared for the unexpected.

I know like I’m gonna sound like an old record, but testing your blood sugar levels often is another way to make sure you arrive alive.