Type 1 Teens and Learning to Drive

Photo by Clay Smith

Becoming a teenager is an exciting time for most kids. Growing older provides more independence and more opportunities for following new interests and making friends. The teen years are also the time when learning to drive is a priority. Ask any teen about getting their license - most can't wait.

Kids with type 1 diabetes, however, face a different kind of challenge when learning how to drive. Even though their diabetes might be in excellent control, there is always the chance of a hypoglycemic reaction.

Most diabetic teens know what to do when their blood glucose drops too low, but they also need to be aware of the additional dangers involved in becoming hypoglycemic while driving.

The symptoms of hypoglycemia include becoming nervous or shaky, dizzy or lightheaded, sleepy, confused, sweaty, or less coordinated. Combining these symptoms with trying to operate a vehicle in traffic is extremely dangerous to your teen-ager, any passengers in the car, and other drivers and pedestrians in the area.

To keep safe while driving:

  • Check blood glucose levels before ever getting into the car. If blood glucose is low, eat a carbohydrate snack and test again to make sure glucose levels have risen. Don't drive until normal levels have been reached.
  • Keep glucose tablets and snacks handy, in the glove compartment, in case blood glucose drops while driving.
  • If you feel yourself going low, pull off to the side of the road and check your blood glucose. If it's low, eat a snack and wait until your levels are normal again before continuing on your way.

Peer pressure might tempt kids to drive anyway and "take a chance," despite a low glucose reading. They don't want to keep their friends waiting.

They don't want to look "different" or make a big deal out of things. Or they may feel that it's not fair that they have to have so much added responsibility and can't be as spontaneous as their friends. That's why it is so important to teach your teen that driving with hypoglycemia is dangerous and the consequences can be fatal.

Parents can also stress that all teens who learn to drive need to have a sense of accountability and maturity, not just teens with diabetes. Responsible decisions have to made by all teen drivers. Checking for hypoglycemia before driving is just one of the many responsibilities that operating a vehicle will entail for your teen with diabetes.

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