It’s one thing for the federal government to pass laws that try and protect truck drivers and everyone else driving alongside them on American roadways. Truck crashes involving these heavy and huge commercial trucks (big rigs, semis, tractor trailers, 18 wheelers, etc.) are often fatal accidents where more than one person dies and others are severely injured. Having laws, rules, and regulations passed by federal authorities as well as state and local governments makes good sense.
However, laws on the books are different than compliance on the road. The reality is that truck drivers are not paid by the hour, like most workers; instead they’ve got to watch the clock and meet delivery deadlines. Truckers also answer to their bosses when they work for trucking companies — people who can easily put pressure on that big rig semi truck driver to ignore the law in order to get that cargo to its destination on time.
That’s called “coercion” of the truck driver, and there are laws against it, as well. Congress has passed a law as part of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which makes coercion of truck drivers illegal. Read it here (49 U.S.C. § 31136(a)(5)).
As part of this federal law, it is ordered that the Department of Transportation create specific regulations that insure that a commercial truck driver (or “commercial motor vehicle” driver, aka CMV) operating in the United States:
“…is not coerced by a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary to operate a CMV in violation of CMV safety regulations, CMV driver regulations, or hazardous materials transportation regulations.”
Which means that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (as part of the DOT) recently issued a new federal regulation designed to protect truckers from being coerced into violating the law in order to meet a deadline. It’s called the new federal “Coercion Rule.” Read it here.
As explained by Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx:
“Our nation relies on millions of commercial vehicle drivers to move people and freight, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they are able to operate safely. 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 Does the New FMCSA Coercion Rule for Truck Drivers Fight Against Fatal Truck Crashes?
The 2015 FMCSA Coercion Rule does three things that are geared to reducing big rig semi truck accidents on American roads. They are:
- First, it sets up a system for truckers (and commercial bus drivers, too) that helps them to report when someone is trying to coerce them into breaking the law;
- Second, it outlines the steps that FMCSA is to take when a report of a truck driver being coerced is made; and
- Third, it sets up specific penalties to be used when coercion of a truck driver is confirmed.
Hours of Service Laws Are At the Crux of the Coercion Problem
What’s the big deal here? These HOS Rules (Hours of Service Rules) mandate how long a truck driver can be on the road, driving, before he or she has to stop and take a break. If truckers keep to those HOS Rules, then they may not make their deadline. This means lost profits for the trucking company, as well as shippers, receivers, brokers, etc., so there is big incentive for these companies to push and prod the driver to keep on trucking and forget those federal regulations.
For details on the new HOS rules, read our prior posts including:
- New HOS Regulations For Semi Truck Drivers Will Be Enforced Across the USA
- Big Rig Semi Truck Crash Danger Rises as Congress Suspends New HOS Rules
- Truck Driver Fatalities at Highest Rate in Six Years: Where’s the Impact of Safety Regulations Like New HOS Rules?
How Are Truck Drivers Coerced?
Insofar as truckers being coerced, how does this happen? According to FMSCA investigations, truck drivers have been subject to all sorts of pressures to ignore the new HOS Rules in order to get their cargo delivered according to someone’s delivery deadline schedule.
- Getting fired from their job if they don’t keep driving and forget the HOS Rules;
- Not getting future work in the form of future trips or cargo loads if they don’t ignore the HOS Rules;
- Being shafted from getting the best routes or jobs in the future if they don’t violate HOS laws; or
- Getting lousy and unfavorable workdays (like having to work on holidays, etc.), if they don’t ignore the HOS Rules.
HOS Rules Are Federal Law and Important Protections Against Truck Accidents
Hours-of-service regulations are federal law. A truck driver violates federal law when he does not obey the HOS Rules. Now, it is clear that anyone trying to get that driver to break the HOS Rules in order to meet a deadline is also in violation of federal law and subject to federal penalties.
“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. “No commercial driver should ever feel compelled to bypass important federal safety regulations and potentially endanger the lives of all travelers on the road.”