According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Commodity Flow Survey (CFS), trucks transported about 71.6% of the value of all shipped cargo in the United States. Achieving this required advanced planning, load maximization, and a large fleet of trucks.
This also means that truck drivers are required to run multiple trips to maximize loads, routes, and time. With the increasing demand for cargo transportation, the question that often arises is if truck drivers are subject to forced dispatch or if they have the flexibility of rejecting assigned trips.
Forced dispatch is when truck drivers are forced to accept trips from the trucking companies they work for. In a forced dispatch scenario, truckers are not able to refuse the assigned trip, even for valid reasons. This practice is unlawful according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
While it’s understandable that trucking companies operate to maximize profits and increase truck and driver utilization, it’s not a valid reason to assign drivers a trip against their will if they have a valid reason.
Some of these reasons include but are not limited to technical difficulties with the truck, the driver’s condition, and exceeding hours of service regulations, among various others.
It’s also important to note that forced dispatch is unlawful and illegal. This practice can often lead to accidents and contributes to road hazards when truckers are forced to drive while their health or condition is compromised. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at forced dispatch and address various questions about this topic.
Is Forced Dispatch Legal?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration(FMCSA) stipulates driver coercion (and with it forced dispatch) to be unlawful and encourages all violations to be reported to the FMCSA and the United States Department of Labor.
Visit the official ruling on Prohibiting Coercion of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers for more information from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This ruling was deemed final and was published on November 30, 2015, and made effective on January 29, 2016.
However, it’s important to note that there is a framework that supports driver and trip allocations. Under certain scenarios, which we will explore in the sections below, there are scenarios where drivers can reject trips that are assigned to them.
Why Trucking Companies Make Use of Forced Dispatch
Trucks play a vital role in the overall supply chain. Without trucks, a majority of deliveries would not be possible and it goes without saying that at least one truck driver is required to operate a truck for each trip.
Factors such as reduced profitability through increased gas prices, overhead costs, and driver shortages mean that trucking companies are forced to maximize trips and also employ other methods such as backhauling. This also means that truck drivers are expected to operate with increased productivity, which leads to more trips per driver.
Trucking companies may then have to assign trips to drivers that have exceeded the hours of service regulation, which states that truck drivers may not operate a truck beyond the 14th consecutive hour without having 10 consecutive hours off.
They may also have to assign drivers that are unwell, not in a position to operate a truck or assign trucks that are not in a physical condition to be driven, due to technical issues.
In these situations and under these conditions, truckers may refuse to accept a trip that was allocated to them. Although it may have negative implications on their performance and revenue, truck drivers have the right to do so.
It’s also important to understand that trucking companies in the United States operate with a profit margin between 4% to 5%. That’s one reason why trucking companies may feel required to take advantage of forced dispatch, to reduce potential losses (which is illegal).
Valid Reasons For Truckers to Refusing Dispatches
Truck drivers (owner-operator and employed truckers) are generally required to abide by company rules and regulations, which also means accepting trips they are assigned to. However, there are certain scenarios where trucks can rightfully reject a trip. Let’s explore these reasons and situations in a little more detail.
- Technical Faults With the Truck – Drivers that are assigned to trips that involve trucks with technical difficulties (such as damages, repair requirements, or issues with the condition) may reject trips. This is because operating faulty trucks is a road hazard and they must be in good running condition.
- Condition of the Truck Driver – Driving trucks requires dedicated attention and the ability to fully concentrate. When a truck driver is feeling tired, sick, fatigued, or is experiencing a combination of these conditions, they may reject operating a truck. Operating a truck while unwell, can cause untoward incidents such as road accidents, injuries to others, or even property damage.
- Hours of Service Regulation – The FMCSA Hours of Service (HOS) regulation stipulated that drivers must have 10 hours of off time, after having operated a truck for 14 consecutive hours. Moreover, truck drivers may only drive for 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period.
- Other Safety Reasons – There may also be other types of safety hazards (accidents, force majeure, driver impairment) that a driver may use to reject an assigned trip.
How FMCSA Monitors Forced Dispatch Compliance
The Coercion Rule, also known as Prohibiting Coercion of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers ruling, prohibits motor carriers, shippers, receivers, or transportation intermediaries from the practices of forced dispatch (e.g. coercing drivers to operate under certain circumstances).
Truckers, whether owner-operator truck drivers or full-time employees working as truck drivers for a trucking company are encouraged by the FMCSA to report any violations immediately.
Below you’ll find the following information about coercion and forced dispatch violations:
- The FMCSA sets up a system where truckers can file a formal complaint indicating that they were coerced to accept a trip in violation of certain provisions.
- While the complaint is being investigated, the FMCSA will guide the driver on future steps regarding the lodged complaint.
- Violators will be charged $16,000 for every single incident in addition to a possibility to revoke the trucking company’s operating authority.
There are also several technological advancements throughout the years that enable truckers to keep track of truck conditions and hours of service electronically.
For example, the ELD Mandate that was rolled out across the United States stipulates that carriers are required to use an electronic logging device (ELD) to keep track of a driver’s house of service (HOS).
These types of technological and innovative advancements offer more transparency concerning the driver’s HOS and the truck’s overall condition to be operated.
What You Should Do If You’re Affected By Forced Dispatch?
Although rare, due to increased transparency and reporting guidelines, forced dispatch still occurs. If you are affected by an employer who violates the FMCSAs guidelines on coercion, you’re recommended to undertake the following:
- Create Awareness – FMCSA has recognized forced dispatch as a form of exploitation and deemed coercion under certain circumstances illegal. Trucking companies and associations should be made aware of the law, as well as violations.
- Consult A Compliance Officer – If someone within your company has violated the coercion rule of the FMCSA, and the matter is not addressed, seek advice from your company’s compliance officer. Explain the situation that you’re in and make them aware of the official ruling.
- File a Complaint – If no resolution within the company is viable, the next step would be to file an official complaint. Drivers are directed to file their formal complaints with the state’s Division Office or the National Consumer Complaint Database within 90 days and include supporting documentation such as SMS, emails, or other ways and methods to show that coercion was attempted.
- Change Company – Work for a trucking company that has good moral practices, mutual respect, and most importantly that is compliant with established industry standards. There should be no compromise for the safety of truckers. In the worst case, change your employer, if that’s an option.