Truck drivers have protections under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”) 49 U.S.C. 31105 and various Illinois laws from retaliation for refusing to drive unsafe trucks and/or refusing to violate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. 49 C.F.R. 390.6(a)(2) prevents an employer from coercing a truck driver to operate a truck in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Coercion occurs when a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary threatens to withhold work from, take employment action against, or punish a truck driver for refusing to operate in violation of certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Hazardous Materials Regulations, and Federal Motor Carrier Commercial Regulations. An example of coercion is when a motor carrier (employer) fires a driver for refusing to accept a load that would require the driver to violate the hours of service requirements. This Coercion rule took effect on January 29, 2016. A truck driver can file a coercion complaint in writing within 90 days of the alleged coercion action with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Illinois Division Office located at 3250 Executive Park Drive, Springfield, IL 62703, Phone: (217) 492-4608 and Fax: (217) 492-4986 or the National Consumer Complaint Database, nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov.
Take the following steps in the event your employer forces you to drive an unsafe truck or in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations:
1. Document the safety issues/safety violations in your Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report (“DVIR”). Keep a copy of the DVIR for yourself – take a photograph of the your DVIR documenting the safety issues/violations with the truck.
2. Take photographs if you can of the safety issues/safety violations on the truck. Protection under 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(ii) allows you to refuse to drive a truck because you have a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to yourself or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety condition. 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(2) your apprehension of serious injury is reasonable only if a reasonable individual in the circumstances then confronting the employee would conclude the safety or security condition imposes a real danger of accident, injury, or serious impairment to health. So you will want to document the safety issues with the truck to show that your apprehension of serious injury is reasonable. Make sure the safety issues/safety violations are documented in your DVIR and try to get pictures if you can.
3. Turn in your DVIR documenting the safety issues/safety violations to your manager and in a professional manner request that the safety issues/violations be corrected. In order to get protection under 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(ii) for refusing to drive a truck because you have a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to yourself or the public because of a hazardous safety condition, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(2) requires that must have sought from your employer, and been unable to obtain, correction of the hazardous safety or security condition. Turning in your DVIR documenting a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety regulation, standard, or order likely gets you protection under 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(A)(i).
4. In a professional manner refuse to drive the unsafe truck until management corrects the safety issues/safety regulation violations and/or makes the necessary repairs. At this point if you properly documented the safety violations/safety issues in your DVIR, provided the DVIR to management, and in a professional manner requested the safety violation/safety issues be corrected, you will likely have engaged in enough protected activity under 49 U.S.C. 31105.
5. If management refuses to make the necessary repairs or corrections and threatens to retaliate against you for refusing to drive the unsafe truck then you can inform your manager in a professional tone and manner that you are reporting the safety violations on the truck and his/her threatened retaliation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by calling 1-888-DOT-SAFT (368-7238) or online at nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov. There are protections under the STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(A)(i) protects truck drivers who file complaints or have begun a proceeding related to a violation of the commercial motor vehicle safety or security regulation, standard, or order. The STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(A)(ii) prevents employers from retaliating against a truck driver because the employer perceives that the has filed or is about to file a complaint or has begun or is about to begin a proceeding related to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety or security regulation, standard, or order. If the safety issue are an emergency, you can call 911 and report the safety violations. See www.fmcsa.dot.gov/consumer-protection/report-safety-violations.
Hopefully, management decides to follow the law and take the unsafe truck out of service to correct the safety regulation violations and make the necessary repairs and steps four and five are unnecessary. In the event that management retaliates against you for exercising your rights under the STAA, under 49 U.S.C. 31105(b)(1), you have 180 days after the violation to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor/OSHA. You should contact Brian J. Graber, Ltd., at (312) 291-4648 for an immediate consultation. You may also have other rights under Illinois law for retaliation.
If you want to learn more about your rights to refuse to drive an unsafe truck and report violations safety of regulations to your employer contact Brian J. Graber, Ltd., at (312) 291-4648 for a free consultation.