Feds move to help truckers pressured to violate safety regs

The Department of Transportation (DOT) moved Monday to crack down on trucking firms who press their drivers to skirt safety rules.

The proposed rule is the latest in a series of steps by the Obama administration to tamp down on dangerous practices in the trucking industry.

Last year, the agency enacted regulations further limiting the hours big rig drivers can spend behind the wheel in a given week.

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The rule unveiled Monday takes aim at companies that encourage truckers to ignore the more stringent standards, and it follows hundreds of whistleblower complaints made to the Transportation Department in recent years.

“Economic pressure in the motor carrier industry affects commercial drivers in ways that can affect safety adversely,” the agency contends in a notice set to be published in Tuesday’s installment of the Federal Register.

“For years, drivers have voiced concerns that other parties in the logistics chain are frequently indifferent to the operational limits imposed on them by the [regulations].”

In particular, the rules target firms that insist that a driver deliver a load on a schedule that would be impossible to meet without violating the new hours-of-service regulations, or pressure truckers to operate vehicles with mechanical problems.

Citing 253 whistleblower complaints made to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between 2009 and 2012, the DOT said drivers who object to the practices are often told to “get the job done despite the restrictions imposed by the safety regulations.”

“The consequences of their refusal to do so are either stated explicitly or implied in unmistakable terms: loss of a job, denial of subsequent loads, reduced payment, denied access to the best trips, etc.,” the agency alleged.

The draft rule detailed Monday would expressly prohibit that brand of trucker coercion, set up a process by which drivers could report violations and impose a system of fines.

Companies could face penalties of $11,000 per violation under the proposal.

The Transportation Department will hold a public comment period for 90 days to solicit feedback on the proposal from industry groups, safety advocates and other interested parties.