Trucking companies may press drivers to work dangerous hours

Truck drivers who move heavy loads and dangerous chemicals across the U.S. are supposed to follow U.S. government rules about their workday. Some of these truck drivers and many of their bosses in trucking and other industries want the government to loosen these rules to allow “flexibility.”

But some truckers and safety experts have serious concerns. Companies often force drivers to work without a break, no matter how tired they feel, for as long as the law allows. And bosses often pressure truckers to break the law by working longer hours.

U.S. government has “whistleblower” rule for truckers

The problem is so common and dangerous that the government has a “whistleblower” shield for truckers who tell the government about a boss who forces them to break work rules.

The Coercion Rule protects drivers from coercion (or getting them to do things by threatening or punishing them). If the company coerces the driver, the driver can blow the whistle without fear.

The Coercion Rule says these things must happen to count as coercion:

  • The boss tells the driver to do something that would break federal trucking rules.
  • The driver tells the boss that obeying the order would break the rules.
  • The boss punishes (or threatens to punish) the driver to get the driver to break the rule.

The protections of the coercion rule mean that drivers have fewer reasons to give in to the pressure to drive unsafely.

Companies that coerce may cause deadly accidents

About 4,000 people die in the U.S. every year in accidents that involve trucks and buses. Something like 10% to 20% involve drivers who are too tired or fatigued to drive.

Even when drivers break the rules on their own, they often still represent the company they work for. When companies coerce drivers into working so many hours that they cannot drive safely, legal action can make the company pay for injuries, lost wages or the family’s losses from the death of a driver.

For some, fear of legal responsibility is the main reason to try to keep the public safe.