At the end of January, “regular” drivers and those who pilot 18-wheelers, semis and other big rigs will benefit from a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule that undoubtedly will make our roads safer.
The so-called “coercion rule” prohibits motor carriers, shippers, receivers and transportation intermediaries from threatening or otherwise coercing drivers to operate commercial vehicles in violation of several FMCSA regulations. Violators will face fines of up to $16,000 per incident or the FMCSA may order that their operations be closed.
Many think $16,000 is a pretty flimsy fine considering the potential damage when trucks are not operated properly, but it does represent a start. What may grab more attention in the trucking industry is if the FMCSA uses its authority to actually shut down a violating company or companies.
Although the original version of the new rule would have held trucking companies and the others listed above to the “know or should have known” standard in terms of knowing whether drivers were violating federal safety rules, that language was removed in the final version.
Regardless, we now have a new rule that will punish companies that threaten to retaliate against drivers who refuse to flout safety laws. While the new rule was being developed, the FMCA heard from truck drivers who said they were threatened with termination and reduced pay, denied subsequent loads and other forms of punishment.
According to the FMCSA, threatened drivers were coerced to violate requirements for securing a commercial driver’s license; ignore hours-of-service rules designed to prevent fatigued or distracted driving; violate testing for alcohol or drugs; and transporting hazardous loads, among others.
Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was quoted as saying, “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.”
Those are noble words that everyone will agree should be backed by a strong response from the FMCSA the next time a trucking company threatens a driver in hopes of convincing them to break the law.