Cops and Low Blood Sugars

Last week I was at one of the local type 1 meet-ups.  We were at a Caribou Coffee, and I noticed a couple of cops there having coffee.  I say “cops” in a general way.  Technically, I think they were Ramsey County Sheriffs.  But you know, uniform, badge, gun, bullet-proof vest bulging underneath the shirt. The term “cop” works for me.  No, they were not having donuts.

I approached them, apologized for interrupting, and asked if they had ever dealt with traffic stops involving diabetes and low blood sugars.  They had.  I asked what helps them determine it is a low blood sugar (or other medical event) rather than intoxication?

The male officer started to reply, but had a lot of trouble trying to assign words and language to the complicated “decision tree” process they instinctively fly through during an encounter.  He said that there are usually other signs or clues present when dealing with someone who is high on something.  The smell of booze, bloodshot eyes, stuff like that.  But it was clear to me that there is a lot that goes into that on-the-spot decision making, and not all of it can be clearly verbalized without careful thought.

The female officer said that one of their routine questions, when someone is acting unusual, is about medical conditions and needing help. All of the PWD’s that she has encountered have been able to respond positively to this sort of question, which then helps the officers start down a different troubleshooting angle (rather than trying to determine “friend or foe”).

I asked them if they encounter lows on the road often?  They said maybe 2-3 times each year.

This was no statistical measure of course, just casual conversation in a coffee shop.  But I left thinking that 2-3 times each year is not that much.

A couple of days later I was talking to my dad about it, and his reaction was different (and much more logical than mine).  He figured that if these two officers encountered a few low blood sugar related driving incidents per year, that it must happen pretty often! How many lows did their department as a whole encounter?  2-3 events per officer times how many officers in the department?

Of course it wasn’t a hard and fast record, and of course not every officer would encounter as many, but some might encounter more.  Any way you count it, ANY low blood sugar related incident is one too many.

It would sure be interesting to collect some figures around diabetes related law enforcement events for different areas.  I wonder what it would take to do something like that?

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26 thoughts on “Cops and Low Blood Sugars

  1. I was helping my brother move to Florida from California recently. He is a type I diabetic. The whole trip went great. We were on our last day and in Florida. My brother was driving and asked me to check his sugar. It was at 41. He sped up just a little to get to the next exit to pull over. The next exit was less than ½ mile and he figured it would be safer. As soon as he sped up; a cop hit his lights. He pulled over and I showed him what his sugar level was on the machine as my brother was trying to explain the issue on why he was speeding up.
    Needless to say, the cop went back to run his license and didn’t seem to care that his sugar was low. Luckily we had some snacks in the truck because the cop took 10 minutes to come back to hand him a speeding ticket. He told my brother to slow it down. I switched to driving after the cop was done but could not believe the cop did not care that his sugar was low. I was in shock! If we did not have any snacks in the truck, it would have been an emergency issue and it seemed to me the cop was more concerned about his ticket count than my brother having a medical issue. I told my brother to fight the ticket but he said most don’t care and it would be easier to just pay it.

    • Oh my goodness, Tamara! What a scary story! I’m so glad you guys are alright.

      I’m also shocked that the officer didn’t seem concerned about the low bg, either.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and share your story, I appreciate it!

  2. I agree with Darsi. As a Critical Care/Flight Paramedic(with Type 1 Diabetes for 24 years, 362 days), I think it is inexcusable that a medical condition that is so frighteningly prevalent is ignored. 1 out of every 12 Americans has diabetes; and the CDC projects 1 in 9 by 2030.

    If we can do breathalyzers and blood draws for alcohol levels, and equip officers with defibrillators(AED’s) to try and abort a sudden cardiac arrest, why can we not put glucometers in the trunk right next to the AED’s? A glucometer costs $9 at Walmart. A bottle of 25 strips: $9. It should be integrated in the field sobriety protocols nationwide.

    Anyone who has an altered mental status or gets a breathalyzer in the field, automatically gets a fingerstick glucose. The damn glucose testing is cheaper than the breathalyzer by about 5:1, and the blood alcohol level by about 30:1. If nothing else, roughly 1 out of every 100 police-initiated glucose tests will find someone with a sky high blood glucose that didn’t even know they were diabetic. That’s a community service.

    Safeguarding those with diabetes, and saving lives in the process by getting a prompt diagnosis in an in diagnosed individual. Money well spent.

  3. This an interesting post for sure. I’m from New Zealand (living in Canada at the moment though) and there was a case back home a while ago of a guy driving his car into a shop because he was hypo at the wheel.

    New Zealand law treats hypos at the wheel as an offense since you have introduced a substance to your body which has caused the problem which is something I’d love to know about the states i.e. if you crash (literally and figuratively) does the law hold you accountable, in general?

    If you’re interested in the blog I wrote on this, you can read it here:

    – Aaron

  4. Great post Scott.

    Just recently when I renewed my drivers liscense there was a question on the application form. Have you within the year had a seizure, fainting event. Y/N….. At first I was offended by the question. I felt that the question should not be asked in regards some law that may be out there to protect my personal rights.

    But then the truth set in. No I have not had a seizure or fainting event while driving, but it has been close. I realize that we have to protect the other people that we share the road with.

    Again great post.

  5. Great post, Scott! I’m not sure why I’ve never discussed this with my son who is a police officer here in my city. Probably because he works Mids and everyone is either high or drunk! I’ll talk with him and report back if I get any good info. I am guilty of not having my bracelet–I just can’t keep from breaking them, snagging them, losing them, etc and am considering a tattoo. (now there’s another subject for you!)I was interested in the idea of pulling over and getting far away from your car. Hmm…

  6. Hi again 🙂

    I live in Norway, and I read in our Diabetesmagazine, that all emergency vehicles (police cars)in Trondheim, had blood glucose meter. I wished they had this “rule” in every city.

    This was because the cops often didn’t know the different between lows and drunk people (they’ve arrested people, who had lows, and put them in jail). So they don’t want to do that mistake again.

    Another incident is that a young man had a low while driving, and ran on an old lady. She died, and he got arrested. This happend right before I got my licens (last year) and now I am always afraid to have low while driving. That’s why I always keep chocolate in my purse, along with my licens, and food in the car.

    And some people I know, from my insulinpump meeting, told me to always stop if I have a low while driving. Even if I am in a tunnel or on the freeway, they told me to stop.

    Just felt like sharing different dia-things that happened here in Norway 😉 (ps. sorry if my english is bad :p)

  7. I see there is another Leah on your blog Scott!
    “Hi!” to the other Leah out there! I suppose I should at least put my last initial on my posts. :o)
    These are all great comments and posts!
    I love the TN Leah’s idea of different colored driver’s licenses, great idea!

  8. I grew up in TN, where people with diabetes have a different color background (yellow) in their driver’s license photo. People with other conditions might have had this as well. When I moved to Massachusetts, I was surprised that there was no indication on the license that I have diabetes. It’s a simple solution!

  9. I still can’t believe they weren’t having donuts!


    I am with your dad on this. 2 or 3 a year to 2 cops is a lot when you think of the entire force. I know that is not a perfect science but enough to see that it is a problem. I have good friend Tom (Bass player at church) who lost his license for a long time because he passed out behind the wheel. Thank God he didn’t hurt anyone but he woke up in an ambulance after totaling his truck! So scary.

  10. Thanks for this post, Scott. When I first saw the title, I thought it was about you getting pulled over! Glad that wasn’t the case, and it’s actually about this great conversation you had!

    I have some personal experience on this, as others do, and have written about this before. After one example a couple summers ago, I’ve since put a “D-Driver” decal on my driver’s side window and also have a keychain on my keys alerting people to this. Those came from a Type 1 who now has a Type 1 teen daughter driving, over at D-Dad innovations He’s also a part of the No Limits Diabetes Foundation. Police are getting more training on this, and I’ve written about that at my newspaper before in the past couple years. I’ve also been talking and working with a local dad who has a 7-year old daughter diagnosed a couple years ago who is a sheriff’s deputy locally, and he’s working to make this more of a discussion point for police on a larger scale.

  11. you also take into account with high blood sugars and high acetone levels you could be dui the machine willo read that as high alchool levels

  12. Hmmm very interesting! I feel so many things about this post. First, it does upset me that we can have our license taken away for a low, but at the same time, it does seem scary to think that people with low blood sugars are driving around. I think the best deal is that we all should test before we drive and if we do think we are low, we should just pull over.

  13. Your timing is so crazy. In Florida when I was visitng my granny, she refused to test before driving. I saw her eat a candy and I insisted she did.

    I wish cops knew the real signs of a low so an innocent PWD doesnt get hurt.

    Great post!

  14. Great topic, Scott! I have this irrational fear of being thrown in jail w/ out access to glucose or ability to dose my insulin appropriately. I have a couple of police friends I need to ask about their protocols on this or what we can do as PWD to make sure they check on that angle. I will report back w/ anything that might be helpful.

  15. awesome post, Scott! I think you bring up a super relevant question and I too wonder where this sort of info can be found, if at all. The logic that 2-3 times per year per officer is “often” sounds right on, to me. I love that you walked up to these sheriffs and asked them about this 🙂 Great work, diabetes advocate!

  16. Great post, Scott! It’s a problem in every country with cars! I will rarely get behind the wheel without testing, and I’ve got good at testing while driving. I would love your post to be the catalyst for a world-wide campaign. I think it should include operating almost anything that moves – chain saws, cars, bikes, boats, workshop machinery, bicycles on public roads and so on. Test before you take control… or something like that.

  17. First – maybe it’s a little sad but it totally impresses me that you went up to strangers to talk to them about the issue.

    I know we hear about the bad outcomes where the cops didn’t check, didn’t ask – but honestly, I have to imagine that they do check more often than we think, or at least consider the possibility, or else we would be hearing far more often about the bad ones. Perhaps that’s naive.

    I’m curious about what Leah posted. I know that’s a possibility, at least in some states, and I’d like to know how often it’s actually enforced. I wonder if there is some standard (like DUI) that questions how often a PWD is pulled over for driving erratically with low blood sugar.

  18. Scott, I have some personal experience in this matter. The reality is a majority of cops will presume alcohol or drugs first because 99.98% of the time, that’s what it is. They seldom, if ever check for MedicAlert tags in my 34 years of life with type 1, the cops will almost never check for it. I was involved in a car accident which had nothing to do with blood sugar, but the adrenaline from the airbags and all that stuff I felt the need to test, and while it was 198 mg/dL when I left, at the time of the accident, it was 73 mg/dL and heading down so I ate a few tablets and the cops asked what I was doing. When I explained it, they didn’t say anything, but the thought had never even occurred to them. Should they add low blood sugar to the list of things they check for? Yes, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen, because most of the time, it really is alcohol or drugs. The rare chance that they have someone with diabetes is a risk most PD’s are willing to live with.

  19. I don’t like what I’m about to write but it was very interesting and something to think about – I hope I’m never in this situation because I don’t like this solution BUT…Diane from the insulin support group told us that if you are ever low while driving the only smart thing to do is grab your fast sugars and leave your car as far off the ditch as you can. Crazy I know!…but here’s the reason: if you are caught with a low while behind the wheel of your car, Law enforcement have the legal right to take away your driver’s license (somewhat permanently) due to “uncontrolled health conditions/danger to society” or something like that. If they pull over and see you in the grass, etc. you are supposed to tell them you felt sick, and the most you will get is a ticket for pulling off the highway in an unlawful way. She actually knows a type 1 personally that lost their license due to his low. This all surprised me so much because my instinct was “well I’ll tell the officer I’m low because than maybe he’ll have pity on me and understand I am not truly at fault” but I think that idea is not a good one anymore. SO what is someone with D suppose to do?? I suppose do our VERY VERY best to not go low behind the wheel….and like Dolores says…wear your ID bracelets! Thanks for posting this Scott it’s a great topic – you are awesome for asking the cops you did! Thanks for making people more aware, maybe the cops encountered a T1 later that day and you could’ve helped save a person’s life?! You ROCK!

    • I also meant to write that she said to “not only pull over, but to get OUT of your car, far from it, and then eat your fast sugar (and stuff your wrappers in your pockets)”. Interesting.

  20. Wear your medical ID — please, please, please! On your wrist it can be easily seen and the officer won’t have to waste as much time trying to figure out what the problem is. My husband pulled over and passed out once, and if he had not been wearing his bracelet, the diagnostic delay may have cost him his life. Officers see a lot of drug related impairment, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a low and something else.

  21. Very important topic!

    I know that some research has been done on this and have been on the patient advisory board of one research project out of UVA that is developing an internet-based intervention program for this:

    Some of the background information and data indicates that there is a group of people specifically with type 1 diabetes who are at a higher risk than other folks with type 1.

    Curious stuff, scary stuff, very important stuff. Thanks for bringing it up!

  22. Hi Scott. Great topic for your blog! I volunteer to be the first to give up some info: I probably have about 4 low bg while driving episodes per year, although I have never been pulled over because of them. If I am within a few minutes from home, I continue on and treat at destination. If I am further, I pull over and treat… wait… well, you know the drill!