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FMCSA seeks to improve complaint process for drivers, brokers

Federal regulators say they are improving a system created for truckers to register complaints of harassment and coercion by carriers and shippers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Tuesday revealed it was improving the experience for drivers and brokers who want to log complaints against “unsafe and unscrupulous companies and/or their employees” such as shippers, receivers and transportation intermediaries, into the agency’s National Consumer Complaint Database (NCCDB).

The changes were noted in a renewal of an information collection request that FMCSA plans to submit to the Office of Management and Budget for review and approval, after a 30-day comment period.

The agency wants to renew its information collection “so FMCSA can use this data to take enforcement action, better inform FMCSA policies for safer motor carrier operations, and improve consumer protection,” it stated.

FMCSA received just four comments when it announced plans last year to improve the database. However, one was from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and another was from the Transportation Intermediaries Association — two major industry groups that feel the database has not been addressing major issues that they say adversely affect safety.

“As currently administered, the NCCDB is an inadequate outlet for drivers to report harassment, coercion, and other violations of commercial regulations,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer stated in comments filed in November.

“Typically, drivers do not receive a satisfactory response level when they call the NCCDB hotline or submit their problem via the online portal. Additionally, there is insufficient follow-up with drivers after they file a complaint. The lack of response from FMCSA results in many unresolved complaints and also discourages drivers from using the NCCDB to report unsafe practices.” 

The agency must increase their response level to drivers, Spencer added, “otherwise, the NCCDB will remain a toothless outlet for drivers to report harassment, coercion, and other violations of commercial regulations.”

Chris Burroughs, TIA’s vice president of government affairs, said double-brokering — which some consider a scam involving unlicensed brokers — continues to rise in large part because of lack of enforcement by FMCSA.

“TIA knows of several dozen complaints that have been reported to the Agency through the NCCDB for unlawful brokerage activities, with no enforcement action taken,” according to Burroughs. “It is quite frankly mind boggling to believe this to be the case, as we know this practice continues to happen daily. This lack of enforcement has a direct impact on safety, which is the core mission of the Agency.”

“FMCSA is in the process of updating the NCCDB,” it noted on Tuesday in response to the complaints. “FMCSA is hopeful that the update will improve the adequacy of the database and allow drivers to report harassment, coercion, and additional violations of commercial regulations.” The update will also include the option for the user to select broker allegations specific to property carriers when filing complaints.

Watch: Rise of the owner-operator

The infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden in November requires the U.S. Government Accountability Office to issue within 18 months a report to Congress reviewing the effectiveness of the NCCDB, including:

  • Efforts to review and follow up on complaints submitted to the NCCDB.
  • Identification of the top five complaint categories.
  • Identification of the process that FMCSA uses to determine which entities to take enforcement actions against.
  • Top categories of enforcement actions taken by the FMCSA.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.