October 28, 2005
COMMERCIAL DRIVER'S LICENSES-APPLICANTS WITH DIABETES
By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
You asked if there is any new legislation about commercial driver's licenses (CDL) for people with diabetes.
State law requires anyone driving a “commercial motor vehicle” in Connecticut to hold a CDL issued by Connecticut or some other state, with applicable endorsements valid for the vehicle he is driving (CGS § 14-44a).
The CDL law defines a “commercial motor vehicle” as any vehicle (1) with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more; (2) designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; (3) designed to transport 11 or more passengers, including the driver, and used to transport students under age 21 to and from school; or (4) transporting hazardous materials and required to have warning placards under federal hazardous materials transportation regulations (CGS § 14-1(a)(13)). Thus, some vehicles are commercial in nature, such as a truck with a gross weight rating of less than 26,000 pounds, but do not require the operator to have a CDL. The law exempts the following from CDL requirements: vehicles used for farming purposes within 150 miles of the farm, fire fighting apparatus, authorized emergency vehicles, recreational vehicles, and military vehicles operated by military personnel.
Connecticut's laws on CDLs generally reflect the requirements of federal law. The federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 established a program under which state-issued licenses for drivers of commercial motor vehicles have to meet minimum national standards.
State law prohibits the motor vehicles commissioner from issuing a CDL to anyone who has a physical or psychobehavioral impairment that affects his ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely (CGS §14-44e). In determining whether to issue a commercial driver's license in any individual case, the commissioner must apply federal standards unless it is established that the person will operate such vehicle only in Connecticut, in which case the commissioner must apply the standards set forth in state statutes and regulations. Anyone who is denied a commercial driver's license, or whose license is suspended, revoked, or cancelled must be granted an opportunity for a hearing under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act.
Current federal law does not allow a person who has a medical history or clinical diagnosis of diabetes mellitus that requires insulin for control to be granted a CDL for interstate operation. But federal law allows the granting of a two-year exemption for such people under certain conditions. The exemption can be renewed. One of the conditions for granting an exemption is that the applicant safely operated a commercial vehicle for at least three years while being treated for diabetes.
A newly enacted federal law (PL 109-59, § 4129) could make it easier for people with insulin-treated diabetes mellitus to get an exemption.
Among other things, this new law prohibits the application of higher standards of physical qualification for insulin-treated people than other applicants. Also, it prohibits the standards from requiring that insulin-treated applicants applying for an exemption from the standards have experience operating commercial motor vehicles while using insulin. But it requires that such applicants have a period of insulin use to demonstrate stable control of diabetes before operating a “commercial motor vehicle” in interstate commerce.
According to Marilyn Lukie of the Connecticut's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), her agency is considering whether to adopt the new federal standards for people seeking a waiver for a CDL for intrastate operation.
Diabetes mellitus is a disease, which on occasion, can result in a loss of consciousness or disorientation in time and space. Individuals who require insulin for control have conditions, which can get out of control by the use of too much or too little insulin, or food intake not consistent with the insulin dosage. Incapacitation may occur from symptoms of hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic reactions (drowsiness, semi- consciousness, diabetic coma, or insulin shock).
THE MINIMUM FEDERAL STANDARDS FOR A CDL
Federal law and the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) establish minimum requirements in a number of areas including license classifications and endorsements, minimum general knowledge requirements, knowledge requirements for special vehicle category endorsements, driving skills requirements, driving record requirements for getting and maintaining a CDL, driving experience requirements for getting a CDL, minimum physical requirements for drivers, grounds for driver disqualification, and minimum state testing requirements.
License Classifications and Endorsements
The federal standards require states to issue CDLs in three classifications:
1. Class A—for any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more when the vehicle being towed has a rating in excess of 10,000 pounds;
2. Class B—for any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating; and
3. Class C—for any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet either definition above, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is placarded for hazardous materials.
Drivers who operate certain special types of commercial vehicles must also pass additional tests to get one or more of the following special license endorsements:
● T Endorsement—Double or triple trailers
● P Endorsement—Passenger transportation
● N Endorsement—Tank vehicle
● H Endorsement—Hazardous materials transportation
● X Endorsement—Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials
● S Endorsement—School bus operation
Federal law requires the Secretary of Transportation to prescribe regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety (49 USCA § 31136). The regulations must prescribe minimum safety standards for commercial motor vehicles. At a minimum, the regulations must ensure that:
1. commercial motor vehicles are maintained, equipped, loaded, and operated safely;
2. the responsibilities imposed on operators of commercial motor vehicles do not impair their ability to operate the vehicles safely;
3. the physical condition of operators of commercial motor vehicles is adequate to enable them to operate the vehicles safely and the periodic physical examinations required of such operators are performed by medical examiners who have received training in physical and medical examination standards and, after the national registry maintained by the Department of Transportation under 49 USCA § 31149(d) is established, are listed on such registry; and
4. the operation of commercial motor vehicles does not have a deleterious effect on the physical condition of the operators.
APPLICANTS FOR A CDL WITH DIABETES
Under current law, applicants with an established medical history or clinical diagnosis of diabetes mellitus currently requiring insulin for control are not eligible for a CDL because they do not satisfy the physical qualifications (49 CFR § 391.41(b)(3)). But such applicants may apply for an exemption from this physical qualification.
FMCSA may grant an exemption for a period up to two years if it finds ''such exemption would likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent such exemption.'' The statute also allows the agency to renew exemptions at the end of the two-year period, or after the current exemption expires (49 U.S.C. §§ 31315 and 31136(e)).
Upon receipt of an exemption request, the Secretary of Transportation may grant to a person or class of people an exemption from a regulation if the Secretary finds it would likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent such exemption. An exemption may be granted for no longer than two years from its approval date and may be renewed upon application to the Secretary. We have enclosed a document that describes the current exemption process in great detail (68 Fed. Reg. 170, Sept. 3, 2003). This document also describes the detailed information the applicant must provide.
Revocation of the Exemption
The Secretary must immediately revoke an exemption if:
1. the person fails to comply with the terms and conditions of such exemption;
2. the exemption has resulted in a lower level of safety than was maintained before the exemption was granted; or
3. continuation of the exemption would not be consistent with the goals and objectives of federal law.
RECENT FEDERAL LEGISLATION
Congress enacted a law this past summer, which affects people with diabetes who apply for a commercial driver's license not restricted to Connecticut. Section 4129 of PL 109-59 prohibits the Transportation Secretary from requiring individuals with insulin-treated diabetes mellitus who are applying for an exemption from the physical qualification standards for a commercial driver's license to have experience operating commercial motor vehicles while using insulin in order to be exempted from the physical qualification standards to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. It also requires him to complete the revision to the final rule published in the Federal Register on September 3, 2003, relating to persons with diabetes, to allow individuals who use insulin to treat their diabetes to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. The law requires the revised final rule to provide for the individual assessment of applicants who use insulin to treat their diabetes and who are, except for their use of insulin, otherwise qualified under the Federal motor carrier safety regulations. It also requires that the revised final rule must be consistent with the criteria described in section 4018 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (49 U.S.C. § 31305 note).
It also requires the Secretary to require individuals with insulin-treated diabetes mellitus to have a minimum period of insulin use to demonstrate stable control of diabetes before operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. The demonstration must be consistent with the findings reported in July 2000, by the expert medical panel established by the Secretary, in A Report to Congress on the Feasibility of a Program to Qualify Individuals with Insulin-Treated Diabetes Mellitus to Operate Commercial Motor Vehicles in Interstate Commerce as Directed by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. (We have enclosed a copy of this report.) For individuals who have been newly diagnosed with type-one diabetes, the minimum period of insulin use may not exceed two months, unless directed by the treating physician. For individuals who have type-two diabetes and are converting to insulin use, the minimum period of insulin use may not exceed 1 month, unless directed by the treating physician.
Finally, the law provides that insulin-treated individuals may not be held by the Secretary to a higher standard of physical qualification in order to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce than other individuals applying to operate, or operating, a commercial motor
vehicle in interstate commerce; except to the extent that limited operating, monitoring, and medical requirements are deemed medically necessary under regulations issued by the Secretary.