Forced to drive an unsafe truck? An employer may be in violation of the the law for forcing you to drive an unsafe truck. Brian J. Graber, Ltd., represents truck drivers who are discharged or retaliated against for refusing to drive unsafe trucks. Truck drivers have protections under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) 49 U.S.C. 31105 and various Illinois laws such as the Illinois Whistleblower Act and the tort of retaliatory discharge for refusing to drive unsafe trucks and for refusing to violate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. In fact, 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. You cannot be forced to drive an unsafe truck. A truck driver can file a coercion complaint in writing within 90 days of the alleged coercion 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 online at https://www.fmsca.dot.gov.
Take the following steps in the event your employer tries to force you to drive an unsafe truck or a truck that is in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations:
- 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 your DVIR with your smart phone showing that you documented the safety issues/safety violations on your DVIR.
- Take photographs if you can of the safety issues/safety violations on the truck. Most smart phones have cameras that also document the date and time a photograph was taken. Photographic evidence of the safety issues/safety violations that exist on a truck at the time of a pre-trip inspection can go a long way to meeting the requirements under 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(2) that you have a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to yourself or the public for a refusal to drive under STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(ii). Photographs also make it more difficult for an employer to deny the safety issues/safety violations existed.
- Turn in your DVIR documenting the safety issues/safety violations to your manager and in a professional manner request that the safety issues/safety violations be corrected. Turning in a DVIR documenting a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety regulation, standard, or order to your manager and requesting that the safety issue/safety violation be corrected likely gets you protection under STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(A)(i) and Illinois law.
- In a professional manner you may refuse to drive the unsafe truck until management corrects the safety issue/safety violation or makes the necessary repairs. This step assumes that the safety issue/safety violation that you documented on your DVIR would actually violate a U.S. Department of Transportation regulation, standard or order for STAA protection under 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(i) for refusal to drive. There may be additional protections under Illinois law. This step also assumes that you have met the requirements of 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(2) that you have a reasonable apprehension of the safety issue/safety violation at issue establishes a real danger of accident, injury, or serious impairment to yourself or the public for protection under STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(B)(ii). Your employer can direct you to use a different truck while the truck you were initially assigned is being repaired. Start the pre-trip inspection required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations on the new truck.
- 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 will report the safety violations on the truck and the threat of retaliation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by calling 1-888-DOT-SAFT (368-7238) or online at https://www.fmsca.dot.gov. The STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(a)(1)(A)(ii) protects you from retaliation when the employer perceives that an employee has filed or is about to file a complaint relating to a commercial motor vehicle safety or security regulation, standard or order and retaliates against the employee. Telling your employer or manager in a calm and professional manner you intend to file a complaint with the FMCSA for a threat of retaliation for refusing to drive an unsafe truck is proof management and the employer were on notice of your intent to file a formal complaint with the FMCSA. Immediately file a complaint with the FMCSA if your employer fires you on the spot or kicks you off of company property for refusing to drive that unsafe truck. Filing a complaint with the FMCSA backs up your claim that the truck was unsafe and protects the public.
Remember it is your commercial license at stake if you give in to your employer’s coercion to drive a truck that you know is unsafe. You are legally responsible for any injuries resulting to the public for driving a truck that you know to be unsafe. You decide whether to help your employer put profits over your own safety and the safety of the public on the road.
Under the STAA, 49 U.S.C. 31105(b)(1), you only have 180 days after the violation of the STAA to file a Whistleblower Complaint with OSHA. Depending on the circumstances, other Illinois laws may provide protection with longer statutes of limitation. Contact Brian J. Graber, Ltd., at (312) 291-4648 for a free consultation to see if we can help you.