House committee begins work to ease the way for diabetic truckers

| 3/4/2005

Diabetes may no longer be the roadblock it once was for over-the-road truckers thanks to a move by the Transportation Committee of the U.S. House.

The committee approved the highway and transit funding bill Wednesday, March 2. If Section 4121 survives the journey through the House and Senate and is signed into law by President Bush, it will wipe out the three-year driving requirement diabetics face when applying for a waiver.

Section 4121 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 and those who are converting to insulin use, the minimum period of insulin use cannot exceed 1 month, unless directed by the treating physician.

According to the American Diabetes Association, with type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. With type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.

If adopted by the full Congress, Section 4121 keeps 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 approved version of the bill removes the three-year driving requirement diabetics had to fulfill to qualify for a waiver.

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 virtually impossible to meet.

The only way to meet the three-year driving requirement was to drive intrastate. Even if a driver managed the three years experience they still faced a laundry list of qualifications to meet.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials had previously suggested an amendment to the highway bill that also would have allowed diabetics to work the long haul with insulin-controlled diabetes – they just would have faced a lot more government oversight.

The amendment – which did not make it into the approved version of the highway bill – proposed creating a “pilot program” for insulin-controlled diabetics.

According to the proposed amendment, the pilot program would have compared the accident and regulatory compliance records of individuals with insulin-treated diabetes with those of the commercial driver population in general. Participants in the pilot program would have been required to agree to certain medical review requirements as well as submit information that may have been necessary to conduct and monitor the program.

If a participant completed the pilot program with an accident and regulatory compliance record at least equivalent to the record of other similar commercial drivers, the participant would have been allowed to continue operating a commercial motor vehicle – provided they remain qualified otherwise.

The next step for the highway and transit funding bill is the House floor, and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-TX, said the House would consider the bill next week.

– By Jami Jones, Land Line staff