Written by Michael E. Hammond
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed a new regulation that would prohibit motor carriers from coercing their drivers into violating certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The FMCSA proposed a rule entitled "Prohibition of Coercion" on May 13, 2014. The "Truck Driver Coercion Rule" would make it a regulatory violation for a carrier, shipper, receiver, etc. to coerce drivers into violating hours-of-service limitations, drug and alcohol testing rules, licensing regulations, or hazardous materials regulations. In addition, the rule would prohibit anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce from coercing a driver to violate commercial regulations.
The intent of the rule is to eliminate any economic benefit that a carrier might gain by coercing drivers to violate safety regulations. The increased compliance with regulations is aimed toward safety benefits from fewer hours of service violations, drug and alcohol violations, and lapses in licensing oversight. Each violation could result in a penalty of $11,000 or, worse, the consideration of a work stoppage for the company.
The specific language of the rule states that the included companies are prohibited from "threatening drivers with loss of work or other economic opportunities for refusing to operate a CMV under circumstances that those entities knew, or should have known, would require" violations of safety regulations. The inclusion of the language "should have known" is intended to eliminate the ability for the company to be excused from liability because it pretended not to hear a driver's objection to continued driving or failed to inquire about the driver's remaining service time. This standard will make it more difficult for companies to avoid the proposed rule and create an increased duty for companies to monitor the drivers' activities.
The federal regulations (FMCSRs) apply on their face only to companies and drivers engaged in interstate commerce. However, in Kentucky, KRS 281.600 authorizes the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to promulgate administrative regulations relating to the safe operation of motor vehicles, including the adoption of federal motor carrier safety regulations. Pursuant to this statute, federal regulations have been adopted by state law in Kentucky and, thus, apply in many cases to intrastate commerce as well. Specifically, 601 KAR 1:005 at Section 2 (6) would result in the "Truck Driver Coercion Rule" being applied to intrastate commerce in Kentucky in addition to interstate commerce. This application is important because violations of applicable statutes or regulations can result in per se negligence. If the violation is the proximate cause of an injury and the statute or regulation was intended to prevent the occurrence that resulted in injury, automatic liability against the driver and/or company can be the result.
The "Truck Driver Coercion Rule" has not yet become law. The period for submitting comments on the proposed rule ended on August 11, 2014. These comments will be analyzed until at least September, 2015. Further legislative action is necessary for the proposed rule to become a federal regulation.
For more information about this proposed rule, please see Coercion of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers; Prohibition .
More information about Kentucky's Administrative Regulations regarding the adoption of the FMCSRs can be found here.