Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Sunday, 11 May 2008 00:05 UK

Diabetes 'is no extra road risk'

Restrictions on people with diabetes are tighter

People with diabetes who use insulin have no more car accidents than those without the condition, research shows.

Government experts believe the potential for complications, such as fainting, makes people with diabetes a greater risk on the roads.

But the charity Diabetes UK says the finding suggest tighter driving licence restrictions for people with diabetes may be unfair.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) refused to comment.

Current restrictions affect the livelihood of people with diabetes
Simon O'Neill
Diabetes UK

People with diabetes who fail to control their blood sugar levels can develop a condition known as hypoglycaemia, which can cause confusion, and loss of consciousness.

As a result, this group face tighter restrictions on driving larger vehicles and some passenger carrying vehicles.

However, a team at Plymouth's Peninsula Medical School, found the rate of road traffic collisions in patients with insulin treated diabetes was lower - at 957 accidents per 100,000 people - than those who did not have the condition (1,469/100,000).

There was no significant difference in accident rate between the two groups at any specific age.

The findings were based on an analysis of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary database on road traffic collisions.

Researcher Dr Kathryn Lonnen said: "We wanted to look at the assumption that people with insulin-treated diabetes might be more likely to cause road traffic accidents because they have an increased risk of hypoglycaemia.

"We found that this group of people as a whole poses no such risk, implying that insulin is not a good surrogate of increased risk.

"Of course it is still essential to have individual risk based assessment for people with diabetes, insulin treated or not, to make sure that their driving experience remains safe and hazard-free."

Restrictions damaging

Simon O'Neill, of Diabetes UK, said: "As long as the diabetes is well-controlled and there are no complications that would impair someone's safety as a driver - and your doctor confirms this if asked - there is no reason why people with diabetes should not be issued with a licence.

"Current restrictions affect the livelihood of people with diabetes as for example they cannot become bus drivers or lorry drivers and some might be prevented from becoming taxi drivers due to local authorities' policies."

Diabetes UK recommends that people with diabetes check their blood glucose levels before they get behind the wheel (and regularly during journeys) to avoid having a hypoglycaemic episode.

They should also avoid long or stressful trips if they are tired and consult their doctor or diabetes specialist nurse if they are concerned about driving.

However, the charity advises that people who have just started taking insulin, have difficulty recognising the early symptoms of hypoglycaemia, have a problem with their eyesight that cannot be corrected by glasses or have numbness or weakness in the limbs from neuropathy (diabetic nerve damage) should not drive.

People with diabetes that is treated with insulin must, by law, inform the DVLA as soon as it is diagnosed.

Those who take tablets for the condition and have a related complication such as the eye condition retinopathy must also do the same.

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