The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued final rules Friday to bar truckers, shippers, receivers, and intermediaries from coercing commercial truck drivers into violating federal truck-safety regulations, and gives the agency the power to slap significant fines on those who've been found to have done so.
FMCSA, an independent agency within the Department of Transportation, also clarified what constitutes coercion in response to concerns by shippers that a misinterpretation of the rule could have unintended consequences. For example, a shipper, receiver, or intermediary should not be held liable for withholding a load from a driver who has said a delivery could not be made without the driver violating a safety regulation in the process, the agency said. In that scenario, the customer could use another carrier or request another driver from the same carrier without making the original driver feel he or she was the subject of any retaliation, under the final rule.
On its web site, FMCSA defines coercion as a trucker, shipper, receiver, or intermediary threatening or acting to jeopardize a driver's employment or work opportunities even after being told by the driver that the performance of a requested task would violate federal safety rules.
"Any time a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, freight forwarder, or broker demands that a schedule be met, one that the driver says would be impossible without violating hours-of-service restrictions or other safety regulations, that is coercion," said FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling in a statement. "No commercial driver should ever feel compelled to bypass important federal safety regulations and potentially endanger the lives of all travelers on the road."
Commercial truck and bus drivers have had "whistleblower" protection through the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since President Reagan signed the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) into law in 1982. The STAA and OSHA regulations protect drivers and other individuals working for motor carriers from retaliation for reporting or engaging in activities related to certain commercial motor-vehicle safety, health, or security conditions.
From 2009 to 2012, OSHA determined that 253 whistleblower complaints from drivers had merit. During the same period, FMCSA validated 20 additional cases alleging motor carrier coercion of drivers that were filed with the DOT's Office of Inspector General.
FMCSA said it was told by some drivers that they were pressured to violate federal safety regulations through implicit or explicit threats of job termination, denial of subsequent trips or loads, reduced pay, forfeiture of favorable work hours or transportation jobs, or other direct retaliations.
Those who opposed the final rules said FMCSA needed to clarify the language to ensure that customers would not be punished for acting to ensure that their freight gets moved without putting drivers in an untenable position. Several commenters said there was no need for further regulation in this area because existing rules already prohibit driver coercion.