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March 6, 2012

Drivers with diabetes: Can an online tool reduce their risks?

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Could a few simple clicks save drivers with diabetes from a potentially fatal crash?

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine are investigating whether an “online intervention” could make drivers with Type 1 diabetes more aware of the risks they face behind the wheel, thereby reducing accidents and saving lives.

The culmination of decades of work and millions in research dollars, the study aims to assess the likelihood drivers with Type 1 diabetes will have a car accident, then evaluate the effectiveness of an interactive online tool designed to help them drive more safely.

Low Blood Sugar: An Overlooked Danger

Daniel Cox, PhD, professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, notes that many people don’t understand the effect of driving on their blood sugar levels. He cites two studies showing that the stress and physical demand of driving consumes 20 percent more blood sugar than watching a video.

“It’s something that really has not been appreciated or recognized, even though people are killed by this,” he says. “It’s a worldwide phenomenon.”

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can slow thinking, interfere with coordination and affect vision. The condition can be triggered by overtreatment with insulin or medicine, by not eating anticipated meals or snacks or by performing unanticipated physical activities.

Evaluating Risk

Participants in the UVA study will be divided into low-risk and high-risk groups based on the predicted likelihood they will have an auto accident. The high-risk participants will then either receive the online intervention or simply continue their routine diabetes care.

Over the next 13 months, researchers will follow participants through online surveys to learn more about their driving, allowing the UVA team to evaluate the prediction of driving risk and the usefulness of the online tool.

About the Tool

The interactive intervention provides a variety of informative content, exercises and both video and audio clips, and tailors this to users’ responses. By having the user establish goals and then monitoring those goals, the intervention aims to help the driver modify his or her driving habits.

Determining Success

If the online intervention proves effective, it could benefit drivers with Type 1 diabetes around the globe, Cox says. “Because it’s an Internet intervention, people can do it in the privacy of their own homes,” he says. “They don’t have to drive to a doctor’s office; they don’t need an appointment. They can do it at any time that’s convenient for them, in any location that’s convenient for them.”

“The big emphasis of the intervention is prevention,” he says. “If we are successful – success being helping these folks avoid collisions – this will become an available intervention for all people with Type 1 diabetes.”

Learn more about the study.

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