Neuropathy and Driving

Antique Car with SmileyI watched several of my older aunts and uncles continue driving when they were no longer safe to drive. Like others, I heard numerous stories on the news about older drivers losing control and causing an accident. Prior to filing for disability and moving back where I grew up, I lived in Mechanicsburg outside of Harrisburg. My mother’s sister and her family lived there. I used to go home for lunch so that I could let my dog out. One day on that trip home, I witnessed my Aunt Ruth run a red light with her two step-granddaughters in the car. She also told me about other close calls she had, but she did not want to give up her license. I always said that I hope when I am no longer able to drive safely, if I don’t have the sense to give up my license, someone else has the sense to take it away from me.

When my neuropathy started getting worse, I realized that I was no longer a safe driver. One day I was driving down the road when a car decided to pass cars in a no passing zone. He pulled out facing oncoming traffic to get around a car. A bunch of us hit our brakes and fortunately, no one got hit. I realized at that point how much slower my reaction time was. Another time, I ran an errand one day for work when it was raining out. My shoes were wet and my foot slipped as I was backing out of the parking space I was in. Because I had no feeling left in my feet, I was unable to find the brake. Fortunately I was able to get my car stopped before I hit another car, but I went pretty far before being able to stop my car and came within inches of hitting another car. It was time to either put up or shut up.

In Pennsylvania, doctors are supposed to report any conditions that may inhibit your ability to be a safe driver. When I had the discussion with my doctor, I was the one that brought it up. She was aware that I had neuropathy. She was aware that I had no feeling in my feet. When I moved and got copies of my records, she even wrote “severe neuropathy” in my records. However when I brought it up to her, she suggested using hand controls and even handed me a script to get them. When I told her that I was worried that my overall reflexes were not good enough, she asked me how I would get around.

I have an uncle (who married into the family) that has neuropathy. Neither he nor his wife was safe to drive yet they continued to. I always thought that my uncle’s neuropathy was caused by burns on his legs when he was in World War II, but when I asked my mother this morning, she said she thought it was from frost bite when he was in Italy during the war. Regardless of the cause, he is not a safe driver. His neurologist did not report him and was certainly aware of his condition.

About a year ago when I was at my eye doctors, the one tech there told me her husband also has neuropathy pretty bad. He did not like to drive but he still did it but only in their neighborhood. Although I agree not getting on a highway is a good thing, I don’t think only driving in your neighborhood is good either. When I think back of all the accidents, fender benders and near misses I have ever had, all but 2 of those were in slow moving traffic areas.

The two scariest ones were near misses. One day I had gone to the store and was sitting second in line at a red light. When the light turned, I was right behind the car in front of me. As soon as we got thru the intersection, there was an opening to a parking lot for KFC. A young guy on a motorcycle pulled out from the parking lot and ran smack into the side of the car in front of me. When he hit the car, he ended up flying over the back of the car, his helmet came off and flew, and he landed on the road right in front of me. The guy that he pulled into went down the road a good distance before he stopped. Had I not been able to react fast, the poor kid would have survived being thrown off his motorcycle only to be run over by someone that wasn’t able to react fast.

I truly get how hard it is to give up driving. But would you be able to live with yourself if you killed someone? I know that I wouldn’t be able to. If had run over the kid that flew off his motorcycle, I know I would have felt horrible even if it was his own mistake that caused the accident. I know what I felt like sitting in my car for a minute afraid to move because I thought he was dead. Had I run over him, that feeling would never go away.

Don’t forget to do the Big Blue Test and record your results!


  1. I don’t understand why there should be any excuse for someone with neuropathy to keep driving. I never had an accident, but when my diabetic neuropathy became noticeable to me, I quit driving and gave away my car, I use taxicabs all the time now, and I’m actually saving a lot of money without car payments, insurance, maintenance, and gasoline. I don’t regret my decision to quit driving before I had a wreck.

  2. I know for myself, whether my diabetes effects my driving – or just age related – I have vowed to myself to give up driving. To me, it’s always been a privledge to drive – it was something I wasn’t interested in at age of 16 (my Dad threw car keys at me & told me – “you are going to learn to drive”). I’m glad I’m still able to drive, but like you say Kelly, when the time comes to hand in my drivers license when I realise I’m a threat to folks safey on the road – I will do it.

    • I am glad to know that you will also be willing to give up the privilege when it is time Anna. Hopefully, you won’t have to do that for a long, long time. I know you like those road trips!

  3. I’m impressed. It’s a tough decision to make and you had the guts and the brains to do it.

  4. Donna Reale says:

    Thank you for this. It is good to know that I am not ‘just freaking’ myself out as my daughter seems to think, having a TIA as my neurologist suggested, or positional numbness as my GP seemed to think.

    I am only 60 and up until a few weeks ago had no problems driving despite having had peripheral neuropathy which preceded my type 2 diabetes by years. Indeed, my work requires extensive driving to get to the locations I am assigned to assess for safety. BUT two weeks ago, on the way to the doctor’s office, I suddenly lost the brake and gas and couldn’t for the life of me found them narrowly missed having an accident. It shook me considerably and since then, even short driving distances are scary journeys as my foot will occasionally tremble, not move as I tell it, etc.

    And yes, since then, I’ve barely driven. I’ve seen my neurologist, my cardiologist and my GP none of whom offered any suggestions on what I can do about this. I am self-employed and so not eligible for disability. I live in AZ where taking taxis everywhere is NOT an option even if I could find a taxi willing to transport me to the nether ends of the state where work has taken me. And I can’t afford to just quit working. if I can’t drive, I can’t do field work which is the bulk of my business.

    Until I read your blog I’d been trying to tell myself that it was a temporary problem, something that was a fluke, that my daughter was right, that I could get my confidence back and go on as I had before. Now I don’t think so.

    So – I guess my choices are either have to convert my car to hand use (neuropathy in my hands is not so bad at this time) and relearn my driving skills, or find another line of work. If you can think of a third option, please let me know.

    • Hi Donna,

      I think using hand controls is a good option as long as the rest of your reflexes are OK. I have a cousin that uses them – not because of neuropathy but another problem she has had since a child. She has a good driving record!

      Alpha Lipoic Acid is an over the counter supplement that has been shown to reverse neuropathy. I have talked to a bunch of people online that found it really helped them. I can’t say that it has reversed mine, but if it stops it from getting worse than it is, then that would be a good thing. You are supposed to take about 600 mg a day, preferably separated into 200 mg doses throughout the day. You also need to keep your BS in control or it won’t work. If you haven’t heard of that, I would suggest reading about it.

      I hope that you are able to get the hand controls and they work for you!

      • Donna Reale says:

        Update: I still have my driver’s license but haven’t driven since October, 2012. Luckily, the company that is my only client moved me into management so I work from the home and only occasionally work in the field now when my husband can drive me. I have not gotten hand controls – although my reflexes are not too bad, I do have days where the numbness in my fingertips tells me that I shouldn’t be using hand controls. Cross town trips in a taxi are $45 and up here in Phoenix so I rarely go anywhere by taxi and the average bus ride is 1.5-2 hours one way, so I rely on my husband and daughter (who has ‘inherited’ my car) for what transportation I need and I shop and wander less now.

        The Alpha Lipoid Acid didn’t seem to help, but I am now on Victoza which has made a difference in my level of neuropathy in my feet, so now I am beginning a couch to 5K program though I’m aware that I may only be walking instead of running the 5K unless I can be sure of my balance while doing so.

        In summary, the rhythm of my life has changed and sometimes I still look longingly at my Prius (I used to think nothing of traveling from Phoenix to LA or beyond) but for the safety of all (I am, after all, a loss control consultant!), I’m pretty sure my driving days are over even with the Victoza. Still, I manage.

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