Tuesday, December 1, 2015

US Road Haulage Safety Upgrade for All Freight Drivers as FMCSA Takes Powers to Act

Federal Punishment Awaits Any Firms in the Supply Chain Which Transgress
Shipping News Feature
US – The road haulage industry in America took another step toward safer practice this week as the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced the publication in the Federal Register of a Final Rule to help further safeguard commercial truck and bus drivers from being compelled to violate federal safety regulations. The Rule provides the FMCSA with the authority to take enforcement action not only against motor carriers, but also against others in the freight supply chain including shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, said:

“Our nation relies on millions of commercial vehicle drivers to move people and freight, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they are able to operate safely. This Rule enables us to take enforcement action against anyone in the transportation chain who knowingly and recklessly jeopardises the safety of the driver and of the motoring public.”

The Final Rule addresses three key areas concerning driver coercion: procedures for commercial truck and bus drivers to report incidents of coercion to the FMCSA, steps the agency could take when responding to such allegations, and penalties that may be imposed on entities found to have coerced drivers. FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling explained:

“Any time a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, freight-forwarder, or broker demands that a schedule be met, one that the driver says would be impossible without violating hours-of-service restrictions or other safety regulations; that is coercion. No commercial driver should ever feel compelled to bypass important federal safety regulations and potentially endanger the lives of all travellers on the road.”

In formulating this Rule, the agency heard from commercial drivers who reported being pressured to violate federal safety regulations with implicit or explicit threats of job termination, denial of subsequent trips or loads, reduced pay, forfeiture of favourable work hours or transportation jobs, or other direct retaliations.

Some of the FMCSA regulations drivers reported being coerced into violating included: hours-of-service limitations designed to prevent fatigued driving, commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements, drug and alcohol testing, the transportation of hazardous materials, and commercial regulations applicable to, among others, interstate household goods movers and passenger carriers.

Commercial truck and bus drivers have had whistle-blower protection through the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1982, when the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) was adopted. The STAA and OSHA regulations protect drivers and other individuals working for commercial motor carriers from retaliation for reporting or engaging in activities related to certain commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or security conditions. STAA provides whistle-blower protection for drivers who report coercion complaints under this Final Rule and are then retaliated against by their employer.

In June 2014, FMCSA and OSHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen the coordination and cooperation between the agencies regarding the anti-retaliation provision of the STAA. The Memorandum allows for the exchange of safety, coercion, and retaliation allegations, when received by one agency, that fall under the authority of the other.

There is of course one weapon in the road haulage industry’s armoury which remains unused in its box. US drivers still rely on service books to record their work whereas in Europe, for example, digital tachographs record every facet of a driver’s day with employers facing swingeing penalties if the downloaded information shows any transgressions with no excuse that either they, or the driver, was unaware of the offence.