SPECIAL REPORT: First-ever exemptions granted to insulin-treated diabetics

| 9/12/2005

Hope you're close to a truck wash - pigs are flying.

Despite the fact that the regulations had - up until now - made it impossible for individuals to get an exemption to run interstate if they had insulin-treated diabetes, four insulin-treated diabetic truck drivers were recently granted the first-ever such exemptions by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety administration.

Receiving exemptions were Gerald Huelle, Lee Kumm, Mitchell Pullen and Steven Zoller.

"The applicants' intrastate driving experience and history provide an adequate basis for validating their ability to drive safely in interstate commerce," the notice stated. "Consequently, FMCSA finds that exempting these applicants from the diabetes standard . is likely to achieve a level of safety equal to that existing without the exemption."

Five truckers were in the group considered for the exemption. One driver actually no longer needed insulin and withdrew his request for exemption, according to the notice published in the Federal Register.

The notice said the four remaining applicants had had insulin-treated diabetes ranging from four to 37 years. The notice stated that the applicants reported no more than one hypoglycemic - low blood sugar - reaction that resulted in loss of consciousness or seizure, that required the assistance of another person, or resulted in impaired cognitive function without warning symptoms in the past five years - with one year of stability following any such episode.

The exemptions come less than a couple of months before FMCSA is supposed to start a rulemaking to change the current diabetes exemption standards.

Right now with the 2003 waiver program, drivers with insulin-dependent diabetes can only get a waiver from the medical requirement if they have three years driving experience while controlling their diabetes.

But, before the waiver program was enacted in 2003, drivers weren't allowed to drive interstate if they were insulin dependent, making the three-year requirement for the waiver nearly impossible to meet.

The Highway Bill includes a provision to change that exemption program. Section 4129 of the Highway Bill states that no period of commercial driving while using insulin can be required for anyone applying for an exemption from the physical qualification standards.

The only big thing diabetics will have to do is demonstrate "stable control" of their diabetes.

For newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics this minimum period of insulin use cannot be longer than two months. For truckers with type 2 diabetes who are converting to insulin use, the minimum period of insulin use cannot exceed 1 month, unless directed by the treating physician.

Section 4129 also prohibits insulin-treated diabetics from being held to a higher standard of physical qualification than anyone else applying to operate - or operating - a commercial motor vehicle.

Insulin-controlled diabetics, however, may find themselves facing "limited operating, monitoring and medical requirements" deemed medically necessary.

The Highway Bill requires FMCSA to initiate the rulemaking 90 days from Aug. 10 - the day President Bush signed the bill into law.

- By Jami Jones, staff editor