Diabetes and Driving Safety: Science, Ethics, Legality & Practice

October 20, 2017 by School of Medicine Webmaster

Diabetes affects over 25 million people in the United States, most of whom are over the age of 16 and many of whom are licensed to drive a motor vehicle. Safe operation of a motor vehicle requires complex interactions of cognitive and motor functions and medical conditions that affect these functions often will increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents (MVA). In the case of diabetes, hypoglycemia is the most common factor that has been shown to increase MVA rates. When people with diabetes are compared with nondiabetic controls, systematic analyses show that the relative risk of MVA is increased by between 12% and 19% (Relative Risk Ratio 1.12–1.19). In comparison, the RRR for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is 4.4 and for sleep apnea is 2.4. Epidemiologic research suggests that patients at risk for hypoglycemia-related MVAs may have some characteristics in common, including a history of severe hypoglycemia or of hypoglycemia-related driving mishaps. Experimental studies also have shown that people with a history of hypoglycemia-related driving mishaps have abnormal counter-regulatory responses to hypoglycemia and greater cognitive impairments during moderate hypoglycemia.