The premise of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA program was to finally hold both motor carriers and truck drivers accountable in adhering to the established safety regulations in place for the trucking industry. It was in fact, described by many, as a good thing for the industry as Rickey Gooch of Justice for Truckers points out that the FMCSA had stated that their intent with the CSA was to “greatly raise shipping prices and to force bigger pay for drivers.”
It is no secret that for decades, motor carriers have pushed professional drivers into situations that have caused them to blatantly disregard the FMCSA’s Code of Federal Regulations. However, in all fairness, there have been many drivers as well who have purposely set aside the regulations, but for the most part, the reasons why between carrier and driver have all been for very different reasons.
A high majority of trucking companies have and continue to place the movement of the freight above and beyond the safety of the driver as well as the regulations. Dispatchers continue to assign loads to drivers who do not have the hours available to perform the job within the limits of the FAR’s.
Mr. Gooch points out, “Dispatchers have been one of the least regulated entities in the transportation industry. The temptations for dispatchers to over motivate drivers to deliver loads that are mathematically impossible to deliver have been ignored for the most part by carriers.” (Ref: Today’s CSA Update).
This form of dispatching has less to do with temptation, but rather the standard mode of operation for most motor carriers. When choosing between customer and driver safety, the customer most often will come first. The majority of carriers operate this way in complete indifference to the regulations due to the fact that they have been able to so for decades. The majority of drivers who have disregarded the regulations have and do so, for the most part, for a difference reason, mainly in fear of losing their job.
Truck drivers who refuse to violate HOS rules or to operate the CMV in a way that would violate a Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Regulation are protected from any kind of retaliation by the trucking company, under the STAA, 49 U.S.C. Section 31105. However, this law seldom sways carriers from continuing to terminate drivers for doing just that. Therefore, even today, as both driver and carrier face the enforcement of the CSA, drivers’ are still taking their chances against the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, rather than facing employment termination in a fragile job market. Even so, professional commercial drivers are proving to be the true collateral damage of the CSA.
As news releases report that commercial vehicles are being shut down by the FMCSA, the numbers are most often misleading as it pertains to the number of vehicles and not the number of actual companies. A report from May 27, 2011 shows that 315 commercial buses were removed from the highways due to safety issues; In September of 2008, news reported that 1,200 buses were placed out-of-service due to regulatory violations and just today, 03/25/2013, bus company, Rimrock Trailways and Rimrock Stages was shutdown due to the same reasons.
Most recently, trucking company, General Trucking Inc., was given a shutdown order after finding a company-wide practice of violating federal safety regulations, including disregarding driver qualification requirements by dispatching unqualified drivers, inadequate monitoring and controlling of driver compliance with hours-of-service requirements, and dispatching and operating unsafe vehicles which were grossly overloaded; a clear example of how drivers are responsible as well as maintaining safety regulations, yet remain silent in reporting due to fear of termination.
In the example above, where 315 buses were shutdown, 127 drivers also faced the order and as the 1,200 buses were placed out of order, 225 drivers faced the same fate. As the CSA continues its wrath on the bus industry, it is only a matter of time before the agency will turn its focus on the trucking motor carriers. Both driver and carrier have responsibility in public safety: the carrier is to adhere to the regulations as it applies to the driver and the driver must adhere to their responsibility for reporting such infractions by the carrier.
The media likes to report large numbers such as 1,200 because this number looks good; however, it is the number of vehicles, not “companies.” One carrier can have thousands of vehicles, but which looks better for the news?
- “Officials shutdown 1,200 commercial vehicles today …” or
- “Officials shutdown 2 companies today …”
As carriers continue to abuse the system by ignoring the regulations set-forth by the FMCSA and intimidating their drivers to do the same in fear of losing their jobs, one company with 1,000 vehicles could face a shutdown causing 1,000 drivers to pay for the infractions of one carrier.
Rickey Gooch sums up his message to carriers this way:
“Do you really believe the DOT will let all of the illegal dispatcher actions continue on and there will never be a judgment day? Do you really? Do you think that the DOT would be talking about our dispatcher problem if they were not going to take action against owners, dispatchers, safety managers and drivers? You have been keeping the records for them to do it with. The DOT is coming and just don’t be surprised when you and your staff are not ready.”
Drivers must stop holding back in standing up for their rights when faced by the common pushing by carriers and by those drivers who continue to show disregard for the rules. Either way, sooner or later, when the CSA catches up with their carrier, they will find themselves out of a job, making them nothing more than collateral damage.