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New FMCSA rule prohibits truck companies from forcing commercial drivers to break the law

Written by Steve Gursten Posted December 14th, 2015

Truckers being pressured by companies to break safety rules have new protections

truck driver coercion rule

I often receive requests for help from truck drivers who are pressed by their safety managers to break Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules (FMCSRs), or risk losing their jobs. Both as a truck accident attorney and as a truck safety advocate, when this happens (and it happens often, it is appalling.

In many of the trucking cases I litigate, I represent the trucker who was injured by a vehicle driver. And I often sympathize with the defendant trucker who caused the wreck. The trucker may cause the crash, but far too often, he or she is often made the fall-guy by the trucking company.

The part where lawyers drop the ball is by focusing only on the truck driver, when in reality, it’s the trucking companies who are really to blame. They threaten our safety by pushing drivers to disregard hours of service (HOS), skip pre-trip inspections, and to speed – all to get loads to destinations quicker.  It’s a fatter profit for the trucking company, but the driver is being forced to put everyone on the road in danger, including himself or herself. Then, when the inevitable happens, and a trucker who was pushed to violate HOS then falls asleep and smashes into the back of a stopped car, the trucking company and its lawyers blame the driver – while doing everything they can to hide all of their own bad acts.

Now, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced a much-needed rule to help further safeguard commercial truck and bus drivers from being pressured by management to violate mandatory federal safety regulations. The rule provides FMCSA with the authority to take enforcement action not only against motor carriers, but also against shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries.

Said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release:

“This Rule enables us to take enforcement action against anyone in the transportation chain who knowingly and recklessly jeopardizes the safety of the driver and of the motoring public.”

How the rule addresses unsafe truck companies who pressure truckers

The final rule addresses three key areas concerning driver coercion:

  1. Procedures for commercial truck and bus drivers to report incidents of coercion to the FMCSA.
  2. Steps the agency could take when responding to such allegations.
  3. Penalties that may be imposed on entities found to have coerced drivers.

FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling defined “coercion” as the following, stressing that no commercial driver should ever feel compelled to bypass important federal safety regulations and potentially endanger the lives of all travelers on the road:

“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.”

What truck drivers have reported

In formulating this rule, the agency heard from commercial drivers who reported being pressured to violate federal safety regulations with 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.

Some of the FMCSA regulations drivers reported being coerced into violating included:

  • Hours-of-service limitations designed to prevent fatigued driving,
  • Commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements,
  • Drug and alcohol testing,
  • Transportation of hazardous materials,
  • Commercial regulations applicable to, among others, interstate household goods movers and passenger carriers.

How are truckers protected?

Commercial truck and bus drivers have had whistle blower protection through the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1982, when the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) was adopted. The STAA and OSHA regulations protect drivers and other individuals working for commercial motor carriers from retaliation for reporting or engaging in activities related to certain commercial motor vehicle safety, health or security conditions. STAA provides whistle blower protection for drivers who report coercion complaints under this Final Rule and are then retaliated against by their employer.

Steve Gursten

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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