Truck drivers are under significant pressure to deliver their cargo on time, and carriers, shippers, and brokers may engage in coercive tactics to encourage drivers to violate safety laws in order to meet their deadlines. Coercion is illegal, and truck drivers have a mechanism by which they can report it to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The safety rules are in place in order to reduce the risk of injury and fatal accidents. Drivers who break the rules place others around them at increased risks for accidents. A car accident lawyer in Las Vegas may review logs and accident reports in order to determine if a truck driver was in violation of safety rules. If the driver was, then the lawyer may look for evidence that a carrier, shipper or broker coerced the driver into breaking the law.
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Economic Pressures On Truck Drivers That Affect Safety
Truck drivers are paid per mile rather than per hour; in order to make a living, most drivers are expected to drive around 500 miles each day. There are federal hours-of-service rules in place that prohibit drivers from driving more than 11 hours in a day. The rules also limit the number of hours driven in a work week and mandate breaks. When a driver misses a delivery deadline, his or her company gets paid less. This sometimes leads to companies trying to convince the truck drivers to ignore the federal safety laws so that their deadlines are met. Drivers may be under substantial economic and work pressure to violate the law, placing others at risk of accidents.
What Coercion Is
Coercion of truck drivers by trucking carriers, shippers, transportation intermediaries and others occurs when companies ask drivers to do something that would require them to violate a federal safety regulation or law. An example might be when a driver only has four hours left on his or her driving clock for the day and the carrier asks him or her to take a load that has a seven-hour deadline. If drivers explicitly tell the requester that they are unable to comply because doing so would violate the laws, then the coercion rule may come into play. Under the rule, companies may not engage in threats of negative job actions or retaliate against truck drivers in order to get them to ignore safety laws so that they can meet deadlines. Examples of prohibited coercive acts include the following:
- Threats of termination
- Giving fewer runs to drivers who refuse to violate safety laws
- Changing drivers’ schedules to unfavorable days such as holidays if they do not agree to break the law
- Assigning drivers who refuse to violate safety laws to unfavorable routes
Coercion was made illegal under a provision that is contained in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. A part of that law directed the Department of Transportation to draft regulations for enforcement, and the DOT reacted by drafting the coercion rule, which went into effect on Jan. 29, 2016.
The Federal Coercion Rule
The federal coercion rule helps to protect truck drivers in several ways. It sets up a system by which truck drivers can report attempts to coerce them into violating the laws. Drivers have 90 days to report coercive incidents to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In order for the rule to apply, drivers must first be asked to do something that would force them to violate a safety rule. The drivers must tell the requesters that complying with the requests would cause them to violate the rules. Then, the employers threaten negative job actions if the drivers refuse to comply with their demands.
In addition to setting up a reporting mechanism, the rule also establishes steps that the FMCSA must take when they receive complaints. If the truck driver’s complaint about coercion is confirmed, then the agency can assess hefty fines against the coercing company for each incident of coercion. The fines are currently set at $16,000 per incident of coercion.
The goal of the coercion rule is to reduce coercive actions by carriers, brokers, and shippers against drivers who are trying to avoid violating safety laws. In turn, the government hopes to reduce the number of drowsy truck drivers and therefore accidents. A car accident lawyer in Las Vegas sometimes encounters cases in which people have been seriously injured in accidents that were caused by fatigued truck drivers who were in violation of the hours of service rules. When the drivers were violating the rules because of coercion, the car accident lawyer in Las Vegas may seek to hold the coercive parties vicariously liable for the accidents and losses, in addition to the truck driver himself or herself.