Diabetics With Low Blood Sugar at Risk for Driving Accidents
Every five minutes during the 30-minute tests, volunteers were asked to rate their symptoms, their driving ability, and their need to treat themselves (a soft drink was in the glove compartment). "They were continually being reminded," says Cox. "They were instructed that any time they couldn't drive, they should pull over and treat themselves. Yet only one-third of our volunteers both recognized their driving impairments and took corrective action."
During hypoglycemia, there was more driving off the road, more speeding, and brakes were used more often on the open road, says Cox. Fourteen volunteers (38%) demonstrated extreme impairments in their driving while hypoglycemic. For example, during the last 15 minutes of driving, volunteers failed to stop at stop signs significantly more often and were involved in more crashes at sudden stops.
The good news, says Cox, comes in identifying three primary symptoms that help people recognize they're in trouble: trembling, visual disturbance, and lack of coordination. "If you have difficulty keeping a steady pressure on the foot pedal, or trouble steering a straight line; if you have trouble negotiating turns; if you have trouble reading signs or recognizing that car ahead of you -- you need to pull over," he says. "People need to be aware of these symptoms."
The study also illustrates the need to take immediate action to correct blood sugar levels. Pull off the road, drink a fast-acting sugar (soda or juice), and allow 20 minutes for blood sugar levels to normalize. "You can't wait until your blood glucose goes so low that your brain becomes incapacitated," he says.
It's important to prevent hypoglycemia in the first place, says Cox. "If you suspect that your blood sugar is between 70 and 90, you should not drive until you've treated yourself. Otherwise, [if] you're going to be driving for 15 minutes ... you [might] slip into the critical range."
Philip Cryer, MD, professor of medicine and professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Washington University in St. Louis, tells WebMD, "As one of the accompanying editorials points out, there are no real consequences of errors with the simulator, unlike with driving. We should be careful in extrapolating from these data to the real-world driving situation."