FMCSA's Hutcheson updates enforcement policy on sexual assault

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The Department of Transportation laid down the law on Thursday with a notice of enforcement policy "to increase awareness of sexual assault against commercial motor vehicle drivers and to emphasize that federal law requires that persons who are convicted of using a CMV to commit a felony must be disqualified from operating a CMV."

Mostly, this enforcement policy just "clarifies" that when a state court forwards a conviction that involves the use of a commercial truck in the commission of felony sexual assault, the driver must be disqualified "for the time periods set forth in 49 CFR 383.51(b), Table 1, item (6)."

That means, in most cases, the driver must be disqualified for a year to life, depending on how many offenses the driver has. 

"The safety of CMV operators is a critical aspect of FMCSA’s safety mission," said the policy, which was signed by FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson. "Sexual assaults have occurred at truck stops, fueling stations, and in connection with CMV driver training. Truck drivers whose personal safety is at risk cannot devote their complete attention to the safe operation of a CMV and the performance of other safety sensitive functions."

The policy acknowledges that different states use different terminology around sexual assault convictions, and clarifies that this applies to "any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by state law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent."

As for what "using a CMV" in the commission of such a crime means, Hutcheson laid out three examples:

  • Felony sexual assault occurring in or upon a CMV or towed unit
  • Use of a CMV to transport a victim to a site where felony sexual assault is committed
  • Use of a CMV to conceal a felony sexual assault -- e.g., the CMV serves as a shield from public view while the assault is taking place

The DOT was clear that the rule could apply in other cases too, and even when the victim is not another truck driver or a trainee. 

The Women of Trucking Advisory Board has focused on the issue of sexual assault and how fleets manage training female drivers alongside males on the road. 

FMCSA also made this a focus of their report called "Crime Prevention for Truckers" in 2022. 

Real Women in Trucking President Desiree Wood said she'd privately lobbied Hutcheson for action on this front, and celebrated the step forward while calling for victims of sexual assault to come forward and report the crimes. 

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"While this notice of enforcement is a step forward, convictions are difficult in the current culture. The truth is we must encourage those affected to report offenses promptly to law enforcement rather than be discouraged," she wrote.

"We also must educate law enforcement to take these reports seriously since they have difficulties understanding why we are living on trucks with someone we hardly know in the first place. In addition, a robust, comprehensive code of conduct must be implemented that protects everyone involved in these cohabitation training environments," she continued.

Wood, a victim of sexual assault herself, called for fleets to take accountability in administering training programs as well.