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FMCSA Strikes Down California Meal and Rest Break Rules

FreightWaves

FMCSA has ruled that California can't dictate meal and rest break requirements that conflict with federal hours-of-service regulations.

Agency says state can't enforce regulations that conflict with federal hours-of-service regulations

After years of arguing over California's right to regulate meal and rest breaks (MRB) for truck drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has ruled the state can't dictate the work rules for truck drivers.

In a posting on its website Friday afternoon, the agency said California can't preempt federal regulations that govern federal hours-of-service regulations, in announcing it was granting petitions submitted by the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association.

"Safety is FMCSA's top priority and having uniform rules is a key component to increasing safety for our truck drivers," said FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez.  "During the public comment period, FMCSA heard directly from drivers, small business owners, and industry stakeholders that California's meal and rest rules not only pose a safety risk, but also lead to a loss in productivity and ultimately hurt American consumers."

The groups claimed that California's regulations, which stipulated that truck drivers must stop for a 30-minute break after five hours, violated federal hours-of-service regulations that require a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving. Potentially, this could require truck drivers to take two 30-minute breaks in an 11-hour driving day when in California. It has also led to a number of class action lawsuits by truckers who said they have not been allowed to take their 30-minute break after five hours, and at the minimum, created a level of confusion as to which rule to follow.

"This is a victory for highway safety, not trial lawyers," said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. "The trucking industry supports our nation's economic growth by safely and efficiently moving goods across state lines, and this decision by the Department of Transportation will save jobs, unburden businesses throughout the supply chain and keep the prices Americans pay for food, clothing and countless other essential items affordable and accessible."

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ATA and others have tried unsuccessfully for several years to get the California provision overturned. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) created a bill, nicknamed the Denham Amendment, that would have required all states to follow federal hours-of-service regulations. The amendment, though, was consistently dropped from bills, sometimes at the last minute, and never passed.

According to a "Deal Colleague" letter sent earlier this year to drum up support, Denham, who lost his reelection campaign in November, cited the number of lawsuits as a justification for the rule.

"This judicial interpretation has led to a situation where state meal and rest break laws are being used to fuel litigation, impairing the safe and efficient movement of interstate goods," he wrote. "This troubling situation has been exacerbated by a 2014 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which contravened numerous district court decisions from multiple jurisdictions ruling that the law enacted by Congress in 1994 preempts states from regulating motor carriers."

Following the last failure when the amendment was stripped from the FAA reauthorization bill in September, ATA went directly to FMCSA with its petition.

"Federal law provides for preemption of state laws on CMV safety that are additional to or more stringent than federal regulations if they (1) have no safety benefit; (2) are incompatible with federal regulations; or (3) would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce," FMCSA wrote in its justification for rejecting California's laws. "The FMCSA has determined that the MRB Rules are laws on CMV safety, that they are more stringent than the Agency's hours of service regulations, that they have no safety benefits that extend beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, that they are incompatible with the Federal hours of service regulations, and that they cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. The California MRB Rules, therefore, are preempted under 49 U.S.C. 31141(c)."

ATA filed its petition on Sept. 24 and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association filed its on Oct. 29.

"We were forced to ask DOT and the Secretary for this important, common-sense solution because congressional dysfunction and gridlock prevented Congress from reasserting itself – as it had in 1994 – as the primary arbiter of interstate commerce, despite bipartisan, bicameral support," Spear said. "We hope today's ruling will once and for all underscore the importance of a single, national standard for work and safety rules for professional drivers."

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