November 30, 2015 10:00 AM, EST

FMCSA Issues Driver Coercion Final Rule

Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg News

Federal regulators have issued a final rule that prohibits carriers, shippers and brokers from coercing truck drivers to violate hours-of-service and other safety regulations.

The rule, published in the Federal Register on Nov. 30, is effective Jan. 29, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Violators of the requirement, mandated by the MAP-21 transportation law, can be fined up to $16,000 per violation.

“Economic pressure in the motor carrier industry affects commercial drivers in ways that can adversely affect safety,” FMCSA said. “For years, drivers have voiced concerns that other parties in the logistics chain are frequently indifferent to the operational limits imposed on them by federal regulations.”

The rule said that drivers and others who testified at FMCSA listening sessions and before Congress said that some motor carriers, shippers, receivers, tour guides and brokers insist that a driver deliver a load or passengers on a schedule that would be impossible to meet without violating HOS or other regulations.

“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,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Common threats against drivers have included loss of a job, denial of subsequent loads, reduced payment and denied access to the best trips, FMCSA said.

From 2009 through 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that 253 whistle-blower complaints from commercial vehicle drivers had merit. In the same period, FMCSA validated 20 allegations of motor carrier coercion of drivers that were filed with the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General — an average of more than 68 acts of coercion per year during the four-year period.

“Drivers may also be pressured to operate vehicles with mechanical deficiencies, despite the restrictions imposed by the safety regulations,” FMCSA said. “Drivers who object that they must comply with the federal regulations are sometimes told to get the job done despite the restrictions imposed by the safety regulations.”

The rule does not require carriers, shippers and brokers to monitor drivers HOS compliance. It requires drivers to report allegations of coercion within 90 days.

The rule includes procedures for drivers to report incidents of coercion to FMCSA and establishes rules of practice that the agency must follow.

Commenters on the January 2014 proposed rule were divided, according to FMCSA.

Many supporters said the rule would finally make shippers, receivers and transportation intermediaries accountable for their actions.

However, some who supported the rule said it could lead to unintended consequences and noted that existing regulations already prohibit coercion.

“By forcing drivers to operate mechanically unsafe CMVs or drive beyond their allowed hours, coercion increases the risk of crashes,” FMCSA said. “…A reduction of this practice would create an improvement in driver health.”