The Surface Transportation Act currently provides commercial drivers with recourse if they are retaliated against for refusing to violate federal motor carrier safety rules. Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued proposed rules that would expand this prohibition to any attempts to coerce drivers to violate hours of service or other safety requirements.
Coercion is defined in the proposal as any threat against a driver who objects to violating safety rules. The carrier could not defend the claim by pleading ignorance as to the driver’s remaining hours of driving eligibility because FMCSA will presume that it has access to such information. DOT also mentioned that the rules could apply to drivers who object to operating commercial motor vehicles equipped or maintained in violation of federal safety rules.
The coercion prohibition extends beyond motor carriers to brokers, freight forwarders and other federally licensed parties that may have occasion to interact with drivers. Also, the DOT proposal would also fine shippers, agents and some other intermediaries that are not typically regulated under DOT statutes. Any attempt to extend coverage to these parties may prompt legal challenge.
The maximum proposed penalty for coercion is $11,000 per incident. The proposal also provides that violations can be used as factors in determining a motor carrier’s federal safety rating. Public comments on the proposed rules may be submitted until August 11.