In 2012, Congress passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, better known as MAP-21. Within that transportation bill, one section made it unlawful for any transportation entity – motor carrier, shipper, receiver, transportation intermediary – to coerce truck drivers to operate in violation of certain federal safety regulations.

Those regulations included hours of service (HOS) rules, commercial driver’s license requirements, drug and alcohol restrictions, and hazardous materials rules. It also included some of the associated motor carrier commercial regulations, such as registering as a trucking company with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and carrying required insurance.

By 2016, FMCSA issued a final rule to put the MAP-21 coercion prohibition into effect. And that same year, FMCSA started counting the number of coercion complaints filed by truck drivers:

  • In 2016, about 300 coercion complaints were filed.
  • In 2019, that number hit an annual high of 966.
  • Early returns for 2022 show that driver coercion complaints are on a pace to exceed 1,800.

FMCSA does more than just count the number of coercion complaints; it often uses them as the basis for motor carrier audits and investigations, an increasing number of which are performed remotely.

Driver coercion complaints must be in writing and filed either with the FMCSA Division Office for the geographic area where the driver is employed or with the National Consumer Complaint Database. The complaint should provide texts, emails or witnesses that confirm the coercion. Coercion complaints must be filed within 90 days of the alleged coercion action.

On its website, FMCSA states that three events must have occurred in order for coercion to have existed:

  • A motor carrier, shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary request a driver to perform a task that would result in the driver violating certain provisions of the pertinent regulations;
  • The driver informs the motor carrier, shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary of the violation that would occur if the task is performed, such as driving over the hours of service limits or creating unsafe driving conditions; and
  • The motor carrier shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary make a threat or take action against the driver’s employment or work opportunities to get the driver to take the load despite the regulatory violation that would occur.

Beginning in 2017, when electronic logging devices (ELDs) were first mandated, FMCSA separately tabulated HOS violations (labeled “ELD violations”) among the total number of coercion complaints. Typical of the HOS-related complaints from drivers were:

  • being forced to drive over hours or work past the 14-hour limit,
  • needing to give up mandatory rest periods to meet demands, and
  • being directed to utilize the “personal conveyance” mode while off-duty to better position the truck for the next workday.

The abuse of “personal conveyance” has also caught the attention of the law enforcement community.

But the coercion of drivers is not limited to hours of service issues – and it is not limited to motor carriers. Complaints can be filed against shippers and receivers, brokers and freight forwarders (“transportation intermediaries”). The more complaints against any one entity and the more consistent the type of coercion alleged, the more likely FMCSA will investigate and take action. That action can include significant civil penalties for each offense and, in severe cases, may trigger a separate proceeding to revoke a motor carrier’s operating authority.