Driving with Diabetes is a Privilege

I‘ve done quite a bit of medical legal consulting/testifying in cases involving people with diabetes, and several cases that I reviewed recently prompted me to write this note to all of you folks on a pretty serious topic. The vast majority of these sad situations involve people with diabetes getting low while driving or an unfortunate “dead in bed” situation.

What would you think of a type 1 individual, who had a CGM device but was not wearing it, then got low while driving and killed a pedestrian? It was his first severe hypoglycemic event and ended up getting a two-year jail sentence in the type of prison shared with cold-blooded murderers. Some may say that is where he belongs (jurors, judges, family of the victim) and others would be more lenient or sympathetic.  We don’t pretend to know the answer.

What about a truck driver with type 1 who had really poor control with A1cs, in the 14% range chronically, who did not use a CGM, rarely tested his blood glucose level, and skipped his insulin frequently. He passed out from diabetic ketoacidosis (a serious condition from very high glucose values over an extended period of time) while driving his big rig on a Midwest highway going 65 MPH and plowed into eight cars that were stopped due to a traffic issue. Six people died immediately, and the driver had no injuries but was hospitalized to treat his diabetes.  Should this guy be locked up? Should the medical folks at the trucking company who cleared him medically to drive be liable?  Did this driver have access to good docs and educators and motivational education? Did the DMV do their job? A lot to think about, but six people are dead and several more injured for life.

How about a type 1 cable repair guy who was also not motivated to take control of his diabetes, passed out from a low, which was the cause of three prior accidents where he was fined, and the DMV let him have his license back after the first few hypo accidents since he needed the job for his livelihood. This time a young couple who were soon to be married were killed as their car caught on fire from the collision and they burned to death.. Another complex case for sure.

Now a case of a businessman with type 1 who gets low and passes out fully dressed in his work clothes in a hotel room on the bed moaning. The maid came in to clean his room and saw him but just closed the door and left. She comes back with a co-worker six hours later and he is now on the floor on his stomach moaning and groaning wearing the same work clothes. She does not tell her supervisor and comes back the next morning to find him dead. Was the patient irresponsible? He had excellent A1c values and did fingersticks six times a day. His general doc never offered him a CGM according to the medical records, which could have saved his life. It would have for sure helped his wife know about him getting low immediately with the sharing features. Should the hotel be sued? Should his general doc be sued? He left behind a wife and two kids.

OK…last one that really hits home, because it involves one of my own patients. This patient has serious hypo unawareness and hears his Dexcom beep three times and then four times, indicating he was below 55mg/dl while driving on the freeway going 70 miles an hour. He thought to himself, “I do not feel low, so I will just keep driving”. Well he ended up having a major accident and luckily, no one was seriously hurt. What if someone was killed? Who pays for the property damage? Who pays for the CHP and firemen services that came to the scene?

When I hear these cases they really break my heart.  I feel bad for the person struggling with diabetes, but of course also feel bad for any other innocent bystanders.

These things are still far too common, so remind yourself of the basics:


  1. Get a CGM and set up the share feature at least for severe lows (< 55mg/dl).  This is especially important for when you travel.
  2. If at any time you dip below 80mg/dl you should pull over and treat yourself.  I’m guilty of this one myself and really, really, really need to do better.  It’s just not worth the 10 minutes you might save to take the risk of not pulling over.
  3. Make sure you have glucagon with you, you know how to use it, and somebody close to you knows how to use it.
  4. Wear a medical alert bracelet.  CGMs and pumps don’t count!  Paramedics aren’t trained to look for them.
  5. If you have frequent lows look into some of the hypo-mitigating technology, like Tandem’s PLGS, the Medtronic 670g, or LOOP.
  6. Keep low glucose snacks EVERYWHERE.  In the car for sure, by your bed, in your travel kit, in your spouse’s bag, behind the toilet, and even at your favorite bar!

We’re lucky to have so many tools at our disposal these days to help manage diabetes, so be smart and use them!

  1. Avatar

    Buzz Kill

    • Avatar

      It sure is! Be safe.

    • Buzz kill??? Here is something to sober up to. My daughter AND her best friend were KILLED because of this exact reason almost 1 year ago. LIFE KILL is more like it our lives are DESTROYED because someone DID NOT TAKE CARE OF THEIR BODY BEFORE DRIVING. Non-compliant diabetic people who kill other people should ROT in prison… we have a life sentence and so should they. PERIOD. This is avoidable and I AM ANGRY. 22 years old both of these young women who had their whole lives ahead of them. I will NEVER see my daughter again. I will not be a grandmother to her children because they died too. MY youngest became an only child overnight. Yet the driver is alive walked away with out a scratch. You are right what a buzz kill

  2. Avatar

    I had an incident several yrs ago, I am a T1D didn’t have a CGM and had just got off work. I tested before leaving and I was 72 (I am unaware but remain functional at 40’s). Just to make sure I wasn’t going down I had a Dr Pepper, waited 15 minutes then left for home. Well I started sneezing a few times and my vision got really blurry and ended up rear ending a “parked car” that had pulled in front of me ( on purpose as it turned out ). I felt low but also shocked. The other person was fine and said repeatedly he was fine. He won the lawsuit my insurance went up. When I got home about 2 hours later I tested and was 99. His word (medical reports shows he was on opioids) but his word against mine

  3. Avatar

    I was taught, before taking driving school, that driving is a privilege and it took the state of CA over three years to allow me that privilege. Lots of doctor’s reports and blood draws to show my control. Later, after my children were nearly grown and had their own permits, the doctor surprised me during one visit when he said “You’re not allowed to drive until you have greater control. And I’ve informed the state.” (Fortunately, by that time, I did not drive long distances by myself, anymore, so I had a ride home (An hundred-fifty miles is a long way to walk home from the doctor’s office!)) I learned to beg rides and travel at the discretion of other people for eighteen months while bringing myself to the point where he was okay with my control. During that time, we were able to get a CGM, which helped immensely. Today, I am allowed, by my family, to drive alone only within town–which is very small and when I do drive the passenger has the right to order me to pull over and get into the back seat. (I am rather compliant when hypo.) When I can’t control myself, it is to my best interest to have someone nearby who can. Therefore, I live with my limitations. For safety’s sake.

  4. Avatar

    I completely agree that these scenarios are heart breaking. People need to understand that health problems can affect our ability to drive. I just wish people with diabetes whether diet controlled or on medication would take the extra steps necessary to manage their disease not only for themselves for all of us. Continuous glucose monitors (CGM)can be a huge help as you mention in your article. However, a big hurdle is insurance companies not providing coverage. I spoke to a man this morning using an insulin pump for years that states his insurance company refuses to approve a CGM for him because he has type 2 diabetes. Ridiculous!!

    • Thanks for your comment and yes, you are right – some insurance companies have a long way to go in understanding the life-saving benefits of CGMs for people with type 1 as well as type 2.

  5. Avatar

    I was catastrophically injured in a car accident by a non-compliant diabetic driver in 2018. My life will never be the same and after he was given glucose at the hospital he walked away just fine. I spent more than two months in the hospital and am presently awaiting my third surgery. If you have diabetes take care of yourself or don’t drive.

  6. Avatar

    I suppose that with level 4 autonomous vehicles that drive themselves all this will be useless information. It is good to control your Hgb A1C. Mine is 5.8% and I use no insulin. Diet control is sufficient. Driving is not a privilege but rather a necessity. I do agree that severely hypoglycemic people should not be driving but then neither should people who use Wax/Shatter marijuana with 90% THC.

Leave a Reply