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As a parent, driving snuck up on me. The allure of having my own personal taxi driver was very appealing, but the idea of giving my child the keys to my car was a little worrisome. Despite her maturity and her responsibility, she was still only 16 and had the capability of making poor choices. I was concerned about everything from a flat tire in a bad part of town to a head on collision. Believe me, if it was bad I imagined it. What I finally realized is that driving is eventual. No matter how old they are they will still be a new driver when they start. I gave her LOTS of limits, had chats about too many friends in the car, made her put her cell phone in the trunk, and made sure she understood that any drinking was too much to drive. She did great. And let me tell you – it was freeing for both of us! I had the taxi driver I always dreamed of and she had the freedom she so desperately craved.

Diabetes adds an additional layer to teaching your teen to drive. It does not preclude your teen from driving in any way, you just need to take some precautions. First, there are no laws against a person with T1D driving. Both Ohio and Michigan require that a physician sign a form stating that they are healthy enough to drive.

Second, help your teen see the need to be prepared. They know that diabetes is unpredictable, they need to be ready. That means they may take a few more minutes getting to where they need to go. Remind them that those few minutes are worth driving safely. Here is a list of things someone managing type 1 should stop and remember before driving:

  • Always Check – Always, and that means always, check your blood sugar before you get behind the wheel. If you are low, or the CGM says you are trending low, take a minute and have a quick snack. Wait 15 minutes and check again. You never want to have a low when driving. You are too impaired
  • Pack Snacks – Have low snacks available and within reach at all times. Make sure to stock your car with snacks that won’t go bad in hot or cold weather – granola bars and almonds are good. If you are low WHILE you are driving, make sure you pull over to treat the low. If you cannot for some reason pull over, use snacks that are easy to open. Trying to open a Capri Sun while driving can be super tough. Try some crackers, granola bars, nuts, or anything that is easy to access while driving.
  • Pack Diabetes Supplies – It seems silly, but make sure to have all your diabetes supplies within reach. Take your meter, pump sites, insulin pens, etc. Do not leave these in the car, they can degrade in extreme temperatures and not work correctly.
  • Wear you Medical ID – Make sure that the first responders know that you have diabetes. Make sure your medical ID is easy to find.

Finally, talk to your teen. Make sure that they know you want them to be safe and have fun. Driving is so liberating. I remember thinking going to get a gallon of milk at the corner stop was thrilling! It gives a teen a little power over their own world. Make sure they know that this freedom comes with responsibility. Set ground rules that you are comfortable with and communicate them. If you work together, your teen will be a safe driver and you just may gain new freedom for yourself. (That doesn’t mean you will able to go to bed before they get home, though!)

–by Beth Ruf

Resources for Diabetes and Driving:

Ohio: Diabetes and Driving – American Diabetes Association – http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/discrimination/drivers-licenses/state-license-laws/ohio.html

Michigan: Diabetes and Driving – American Diabetes Association – http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/discrimination/drivers-licenses/state-license-laws/michigan.html