I spent a few hours reading DOT’s new rulemaking on coercion. It goes into effect at the end of January, 2016. This rule is required by Congress’ MAP-21 law of 2012. DOT is required to implement a rule, which will forbid anyone from coercing drivers to break the safety rules. Presumably, they are talking about the hours of service rules, but coercion could apply to anything, like maintenance. For those not up on ‘government-speak’, coercion means forcing you to do something you don’t want to do. For example, the IRS coerces me to pay a significant percentage of my earnings to them. I suppose another word which somewhat equates to ‘coercion’ is ‘blackmail’.
Here is what I learned after reading this rule:
1) DOT admits their regulations are complex.
2) Other government entities, like the Department of Defense, are exempt from coercing drivers to break the rules. The government can coerce you all day long, and it’s perfectly legal, but we already knew that.
3) DOT states the burden of proof is on DOT in these enforcement cases.
4) DOT admits it has no proof that coercion is causing crashes.
5) Names of complaining drivers will be available to the accused motor carriers and/or shippers.
6) Shippers who force drivers off their property, after they make them wait for hours to be unloaded, even though they are now out of hours, are not coercing the driver to violate the hours of service.
I doubt this rule will have much impact. It will certainly not lessen accidents. I doubt many drivers will complain. DOT is limited in its ability to protect a complaining driver from retaliation. Of the complaints DOT does receive, many will be ignored. DOT has wide discretion to determine which are valid complaints and which are not. Complaints will be judged not just on the allegations themselves, but by the nature of the accused. For example, if driver Smith complains that ABC Trucking Company, with their 20 trucks, made him violate the 14 hour rule on December 1, 2015 by threatening to fire him, there is a decent chance DOT might investigate ABC Trucking Company. If driver Smith alleges FedEx or Swift did the same thing…. Not so much.
This rule will not be used by DOT against shippers. For one thing, many shippers are huge, with lots and lots of lawyers. DOT hates lawyers, and will usually avoid any action against any entity which has lots of lawyers. DOT will justify their inaction by correctly pointing out that it will be difficult to prove coercion, especially against shippers.
One thing did strike me, as I spent a few hours reading this rule. Countless numbers of man-hours have been spent creating this rule. DOT spent months creating this rule, and then the regulated industry spent a huge amount of time commenting on the rule. Yet this rule will do absolutely nothing to improve safety. Coercion is already illegal. This does nothing more than add another bureaucratic layer of regulations on top of what was already an illegal activity. Does coercion go on in the industry? Absolutely. Every day. Is it causing crashes? I doubt it. I don’t have any proof of that, but then neither does DOT, as they admitted in their rulemaking. This is simply another massive solution in search of a problem.