The perception of safe driving ability during hypoglycemia in patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus

Am J Med. 1999 Sep;107(3):246-53. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(99)00221-1.


Purpose: Insulin-induced hypoglycemia and its sequelae of cognitive impairment may place patients with type 1 diabetes at risk when driving and when making decisions about driving. Little is known about the factors that influence judgments of safe driving ability during hypoglycemia in these patients.

Patients and methods: Thirty men and 30 women with uncomplicated type 1 diabetes (age [mean +/- SD] 33 +/- 9 years, duration 9 +/- 3 years, hemoglobin A1c level 8.7% +/- 1.0%) underwent a stepped hypoglycemic insulin clamp. Serum glucose levels were reduced from 120 mg/dL to 80, 70, 60, 50, and then 40 mg/dL during 190 minutes. At each glucose plateau, patients completed a symptom questionnaire and neuropsychological test, estimated their glucose level, and reported whether they could drive safely.

Results: The proportion of patients judging that they could drive safely decreased as serum glucose levels decreased from 70% at 120 mg/dL to 22% at 40 mg/dL. Men and middle-aged patients were more likely to consider it safe to drive during hypoglycemia than women and those under 25 years of age. Those who were symptomatic and those who recognized hypoglycemia were less likely to report safe driving ability during hypoglycemia. Most patients who were cognitively impaired appeared to recognize this and reported that they could not drive safely at a serum glucose level of 40 mg/dL.

Conclusions: Adults with type 1 diabetes need educational reinforcement of safe driving habits, particularly to check glucose levels before driving. Glucose levels less than 70 mg/dL should be treated before driving. This information is as important for middle-aged, experienced drivers as it is for younger, inexperienced drivers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Age Factors
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Cognition*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / blood
  • Hypoglycemia / chemically induced
  • Hypoglycemia / psychology*
  • Insulin / adverse effects*
  • Insulin / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Perception
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin