Thursday, 18 April 2013

Diabetic Driver Discrimination

As I have noted on this blog before, I suffer from Type 1 Diabetes.  I developed this in 1988 but have only been considered disabled since 2005 when the law was altered to encompass more ‘hidden disabilities’.  This did not prevent my previous employer from breaking the law, despite the awards it had received for supporting disabled staff, and allowing my manager to bully me on the basis of my health condition, one which I will never be cured of.  Generally I had thought that British society was becoming more understanding of diabetes, especially with the continuing rise in people with Type 2 Diabetes.  However, the government seems to be going in the opposite direction.  In part I imagine that stems from them wanting to cut back what is seen as support for anyone who is disabled.  They have inherited a distilled version of the Victorio-Thatcherite ‘deserving poor’ perception and blended in elements of Nazism (or perhaps simply Winston Churchill’s eugenic attitudes) that see the lives of the disabled as being less than those of ‘normal’ people.  Not only do we need to do without assistance we need to be reminded that we are not as good as these others, though as we age, even Conservative MPs develop one impairment or another which moves them into this category.  I guess wealth buys you an exemption.
Since 1988 having Diabetes has meant that I have had to renew my driving licence every three years.  My parents who are now both 75 have to do the same.  There is clearly an assumption that the authorities have to check in with you at regular intervals to make sure you have not become a hazard sometime in the past 35 months.  I find this ironic given how much dangerous driving and horrific accidents I see on a daily basis driving into London or even back and forth across South-West England, presumably committed by the ‘normal’ drivers.  However, a minister, one I have not been able to track down, apparently outlined in parliament by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport in 2011 how hazardous diabetic drivers are.  I have not seen the figures, but he felt the need to clamp down on these dangerous handlers of vehicles, even more sinister because their disability is hidden and not seen for all to see.  Perhaps I should wear some kind of triangle on my clothing so people know I am a diabetic, white seems to be the common colour for diabetic products or perhaps a nice clinical blue would be better.
As a result of this clamp down, not only do I have to complete the form I always had to and send it back to the DVLA outlining how even though it is difficult to register with a GP especially when you have moved around as much as I have in recent months, four towns in nine months, I have attended not only my GP to see about my diabetes but a consultant too.  Added to this, every time I drive I must check my blood sugar level 30 minutes before I get in the car and then every 2 hours while driving.  As you can see this begins to impinge on my life.  There is no ability to jump in the car to get some milk if we find we have none; I must wake a certain time before driving to make sure all the checks are done; I cannot rush someone to hospital in my car unless I have delayed thirty minutes, though that is something easily done waiting to get an ambulance.  Yet all around me are drivers dropping off at the wheel; drivers whose own blood sugar is so low (because, yes, that does happen to non-diabetics too especially during the evening rush hour) they cannot concentrate and drivers who are so offended by imagined slights that they dissolve into an instant fury which is more dangerous to other drivers than a hypoglycemic attack for which diabetics feel the onset and can be tackling safely before it develops.  In fact contrary to what ill-informed ministers seem to believe, when I drive my blood sugar actually rises leading very slowly to hyperglycemia rather than hypo, but I guess that ministers stop bothering once they have got passed the ‘p’.
As a result of this new approach if I am shunted in a traffic queue and the police are involved, I can be taken into custody even if it was not my fault that the accident happened.  The driver who hit me, even if he fell asleep at the wheel or went into a rage, is allowed to go home.  I have to bring my blood checker and prove all my blood levels for the journey and undergo other blood tests.  Thus, a diabetic, unlike ‘normal’ drivers is assumed to be at least partially guilty, even before there is any proof against him/her.  The consultant I used to visit in West London last year was convinced that soon all his patients would lose their driving licence.  Despite me stating that I had been driving with diabetes for 25 years without an incident, he told me it was inevitable that I would be banned and recounted a man who had had two lower blood sugar readings when sleeping at home, not whilst driving and this leading to him losing his licence.  This attitude discourages diabetics from checking their blood sugar levels for the fear of having a ‘bad’ reading somewhere on their checking device, something apparently the police can demand to see without a warrant despite it containing personal data.  With the numbers of people in the UK with diabetes rising, a whole sector runs the risk of having our lives wrecked by other people’s simply uncaring driving.
The new policy is based simply on ill-informed prejudice.  Where are all the statistics about the thousands of injuries and deaths caused by diabetic drivers?  Why is it that someone who keeps a close check on what their body is doing is discriminated against when someone ‘normal’ still hung over from the night before or still partially stoned has no such checks against them?  They do not have to check their blood and be able to show the police on demand what level their alcohol or drug level is at even when they are not responsible for the crash.  I do recognise that anyone involved in a traffic accident, even bystanders who have come to assist can now have their blood alcohol levels checked: another clever policy from the government which discourages people from helping out at incidents for fear of being sucked in themselves.
I do wonder what step the government will take next.  Will asthmatics have to blow into a bag, video themselves on their phone and email it to the police in each constabulary as they drive through?  Will people who suffer migraines have to whack their head against a government-issue brick to show they are not suffering a migraine before they drive?  Will people with eczema have to carry a diagram of the areas of skin they have lubricated before getting in the car in case some skin flakes fall over the steering wheel so distressing a ‘normal’ person as they speed past?  The policy does nothing to aid road safety, it is simply a policy which taps into the paranoia that is such a vote winner in the UK.  The consequences for the ordinary, yes normal people who happen to have diabetes, caught up by this system can be a wrecked life forced to travel on prohibitively expensive public transport and unable to hold certain jobs making them more likely to be unemployed and dependent on the government.  However, is it any surprise that we see irrational regulations coming from the clueless government of today?

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