Same Basic Rules, New Sharper Teeth

The new FMCSA driver coercion rule took effect Jan. 29, but what does it mean for your company? If you have been in the transportation industry for any length of time, you have heard stories of a dispatcher receiving a panicked call from a customer asking when their freight is due to arrive. The customer needs that item today and if you do not get it delivered today, they will have to look for another carrier to do business with.

The dispatcher then contacts the driver and explains how important it is that they deliver the load today. Yes, even if it means driving over their daily limit or cutting their rest break short to meet the customer’s demand. After all, the dispatcher says ominously, if they lose the customer, there may not be any work for that driver.

For decades it has been widely known that some drivers have been coerced to violate safety rules to keep their jobs or contracts. In 1970, OSHA rolled out a whistleblower program that protects workers who report violations of workplace health and safety. The law for drivers was stiffened in 2012, and starting at the end of January 2016, the FMCSA will start handling coercion complaints from drivers.

What You Need to Know

It's pretty common sense, really.

  • New driver coercion rule went into effect Jan. 29, 2016.
  • A carrier, shipper or broker cannot threaten or retaliate against a driver for refusing to follow safety regulations.
  • The FMCSA and OSHA can get a complaint from a driver.
  • ELDs will log anyone who makes, edits, or deletes an entry.
  • PRO-TREAD's courses have been updated.

What the Driver Coercion Rule Means

Practically, what this means is that drivers will have a trucking-specific process to report any instances where carriers, shippers, receivers and others threaten or coerce the driver to break safety laws. Specifically, the FMCSA driver coercion rule was a part of the MAP-21 program.

To use the story we started with, if that driver is retaliated against for holding his ground about driving within the rules, he has the right to:

  • File an FMCSA or OSHA complaint
  • Participate in an inspection or talking to an inspector
  • Seek access to employer exposure and injury records
  • Report an injury
  • Raise a safety or health complaint with the employer

If workers have been retaliated or discriminated against for exercising their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged retaliation.

Why It Matters

In 2014 a commercial driver was involved in a fatal crash. During the investigation, it was found the driver of the truck had been on duty of over 20 hours. Both the carrier and driver were charged and forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the victim's family.

While asking a driver to just go a little farther, or to cut their break just a little short may seem like small things, they can add up. A 70-hour week on of bad sleep, bad food, bad traffic compound the danger. If disaster strikes and someone in your company has contributed to it, the consequences will be serious.

What Should a Company or Dispatcher Do?

There short answer is that no load is worth the life of people on the road. Practically speaking, you want business practices that avoid putting the driver and dispatcher in the situation. If it’s a recurring problem, the carrier, shipper and driver need to work together to figure out the hang-up.

One carrier discovered one of their drivers was always the last to be loaded at a distribution center because the manager didn’t like the driver. (Something about the driver dating the manager’s daughter!) It had nothing to do with any kind of data — weather, traffic, hours of service — that could show up in a system. Eventually, the driver pointed to the detention time, and that brought the problem to light.

FMCSA Driver Coercion Rule and Electronic Driver Logs

Electronic logs were also included in the MAP-21 program. Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) must include a record of anyone who updates or modifies the logs, along with a notation as to why they’ve been changed. This paper trail (“electron trail”?) means investigators will know if a log was changed by someone at headquarters, or if a driver notes that dispatch told them to “bend the rules.”.

The Whistleblower course from PRO-TREAD has been updated to reflect the new changes, as well as the Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation course for managers. If you are interested in customizing those courses for your company, or in setting up a “train the trainer” webinar for your driver managers about the new FMCSA driver coercion rule, please drop us a line.

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