Diabetic? Learn more about how you can drive and get car insurance.
More than a million Australians have diabetes and it’s on the rise. In light of how common it is, recent changes to driving regulations have been made to make sure Australians with diabetes aren’t facing unfair hurdles for driving and getting car insurance.
The two main concerns with diabetes are the chances of a severe hypoglycaemic event while driving and the impact it can have on other body parts like the eyes or limbs.
For this reason, there are special conditions in place for driving with diabetes. If you don’t meet them, you are not legally able to drive and your car insurance probably won’t cover you in the event of an accident.
Note: While care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information in this guide, it is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your medical practitioner or state licensing authority.
How to drive legally with diabetes
There are four main things to do before you can legally drive with diabetes:
- You must get assessed for chances of a severe hypoglycaemic event.
- You must meet the licensing requirements for driving with diabetes.
- You must have any diabetes comorbidities assessed.
- You must take special precautions before driving.
Getting assessed for chances of a severe hypoglycaemic event
You should not drive following a severe hypoglycaemic event until an endocrinologist or a consultant physician specialising in diabetes has cleared you to drive. A severe episode is one that you are unable to treat yourself and where you require outside assistance.
You generally won’t be able to drive for at least six weeks following a severe hypoglycaemic episode, but it may be longer depending on your license type, the reason for the episode and the specialist’s opinion.
Generally, you will be cleared to drive again when the specialist gives their approval in line with the following:
- The steps you are taking to manage your condition.
- The chances of you experiencing a hypoglycaemic episode without any early warning signs.
- The overall chances of you experiencing future severe hypoglycaemic episodes.
Licensing requirements for driving with diabetes
These requirements can vary depending on how you are managing the condition and whether you’re going for a commercial or personal driver’s license. In all cases, you must follow the severe hypoglycaemic event and comorbidity requirements.
If your diabetes is managed by diet and exercise:
- You are not required to inform your licensing authority at all, except in the state of Victoria.
- There are no license conditions or restrictions at all, unless you also require glucose-lowering medication. Here, you must follow the license requirements for insulin.
- This is the same for both commercial and private driver’s licenses.
If your diabetes is treated with glucose-lowering agents other than insulin:
- Private licenses simply require you to notify your state license authority and to get reassessed every five years. You can still get a normal driver’s license.
- Commercial licenses require you to inform the licensing authority and to get conditional license approval from the licensing authority in conjunction with your specialist’s recommendations.
- If you also require insulin, you must meet the license requirements for insulin.
If your diabetes requires insulin:
- You need a conditional license for both private and commercial license types.
- For commercial licenses, you need an assessment from a specialist practitioner, but you can get a private license with an assessment by any medical doctor.
- Private licenses need a reassessment from your treating doctor every two years, while commercial licenses need an annual reassessment from your specialist every year.
Assessment of comorbidities
Any diabetes-related health issues that may impact your ability to drive will need to be separately assessed. To meet this requirement, you need to have periodic check-ups with a medical practitioner.
These check-ups may specifically include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Vision testing. Annual eye tests are necessary. You should have a retinal screening done every two years, or more frequently if you show signs of being especially at risk.
- Neuropathy and foot care. The severity of the condition needs to be assessed in line with how it might affect your ability to drive. Specifically, you need to demonstrate adequate sensation and movement to operate the foot pedals.
- Sleep apnoea. This is a common comorbidity with diabetes, and evidence has shown that people with sleep apnoea are much more likely to have car accidents. This is assessed specifically in line with your personal risk factors, such as your BMI and your score on tests like the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. This test determines how likely you are to doze off in certain situations like being stuck in traffic.
- Heart issues. There are no specific guidelines for assessing one’s risk of cardiovascular issues in relation to diabetes or one’s ability to drive, but you will generally need regular assessments to determine your risk of a heart condition.
Precautions you need to take
Follow this checklist prior to driving. By following the required steps above, you should have completed the following:
- Obtained identification that says you are diabetic
- Informed your licensing authority that you have diabetes
- Had your feet and eyes checked in the last 12 months
- Ensured you have no untreated daytime drowsiness or sleep apnoea
Before driving, you should do the following:
- Check your blood glucose levels. It should be above 5mmol/L before you get behind the wheel.
- Have access to a fast-acting carbohydrate while driving, such as jelly beans, fruit juice or a soft drink.
- Take your blood glucose meter with you while driving.
And while driving, you should remember to check your blood glucose level at least every two hours and to stop driving if it’s above five.
What does diabetes mean for car insurance?
With car insurance, you have an obligation to inform your insurer of anything that may affect your ability to drive, including diabetes. If you do not let your insurer know, then you might be breaching the terms of your car insurance policy, and they may be able to decline your claim regardless of whether it has anything to do with diabetes or whether you were at fault.
By following the appropriate licensing steps, as well as by informing your car insurance provider, you are fulfilling your requirements and can get the benefits of car insurance with minimal impact to your premiums or cover available.
If you aren’t driving legally, such as if you’ve recently had a severe hypoglycaemic episode and the future risk of another episode has yet to be determined, you generally cannot expect your car insurance to cover you.
If your diabetes requires you to have a conditional driver’s license, this may include restrictions around where and when you can drive. If this is the case, you might want to look into pay-as-you-go car insurance policies if you aren’t driving as much as you used to.
All insurers are different, and you might find very different prices for the same cover depending on where you go. It can be a good idea to get multiple quotes from a range of providers and factor in any discounts which might be available to you.
Diabetes can have a significant impact on your ability to drive safely, but by taking the right steps you can help minimise the risk and make sure you still have a wide range of car insurance options available.