August 12, 2023

FMCSA will consider rollbacks to truck driver rest-break rules


WASHINGTON — Regulators will consider rolling back federal preemption decisions on truck driver work rules by issuing waivers to those who can show that stricter state rules in California and Washington are more safe.

In a notice published Friday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it will consider waiver requests of its Dec. 21, 2018, ruling affirming that California Meal and Rest Break (MRB) rules — and a similar Nov. 17, 2020, ruling regarding Washington state MRB rules — are preempted by federal law. Both rulings were made during the Trump administration.

“While petitions for waiver may be submitted at any time, FMCSA requests that any petitions for waiver [of the California and Washington rulings] be submitted by November 13, 2023,” the notice stated. “FMCSA will publish any petitions for waiver that it receives and will provide an opportunity for public comment with respect to the petitions.”

Employers in California and Washington are required to adhere to stricter MRB rules than is required by the federal government. In California, truck drivers and other employees must be given a 30-minute meal break if they work more than five hours in a day, and drivers who work a shift of 10 hours or more are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. Employees are also entitled to a 10-minute rest period for each four hours that they work in a day. Washington’s rules are similar.

However, federal hours-of-service rules — which were made even more flexible for employers in September 2020 — require that drivers only be provided a 30-minute break after eight hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allow an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters challenged FMCSA’s California preemption determination in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and lost. In opposing the Washington preemption, the Teamsters took issue with the Washington Trucking Association’s assertion that the state’s MRB rules undermine safety “by artificially exacerbating the shortage of safe truck parking,” making it more likely that drivers “will have to spend additional time looking for parking when they need rest, or resort to unsafe places to park.”

The union countered, “In our experience, a much larger threat faced by truck drivers is that they are discouraged from taking rest breaks as allowed under federal law because they fear punishment from their employers if they don’t complete a run on time, or because they are paid by the mile and would rather push their bodies to the limit in order to earn extra pay.”

The Teamsters did not immediately respond as to whether it plans to petition FMCSA for a waiver.

The American Trucking Associations, which made the initial request to FMCSA for a preemption determination, sees FMCSA’s latest move as harming interstate freight movement — and potentially costly for carriers.

“Ensuring a singular, national standard of work rules for professional drivers is crucial to both safety and the supply chain,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.

“Federal law already mandates rest breaks for drivers. Unnecessary and duplicative state laws are not grounded in safety and have been primarily enforced via private lawsuits designed to extort the trucking industry. Opening the door to this spurious litigation once again would impair the safe and efficient movement of interstate goods.

“ATA is fully prepared to oppose this effort that would result in a confusing patchwork of regulations. We will leverage all of our Federation’s resources to stop this in its tracks.”

P. Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, agreed with ATA’s assessment.

“The fact remains that FMCSA decision to preempt the California and Washington Meal and Rest Break rules was the right one for commerce and safety,” Garney told FreightWaves. “In general, the preemptions make managing hours of service easier because interstate carriers don’t need to manage to multiple state hours of service rules regimes.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states, including California and Washington, regulate meal and rest break requirements in varying degrees (see table).

States with meal and rest laws
New Hampshire
New York
North Dakota
Rhode Island
West Virginia
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, 2019

FMCSA asked that waiver petitions address at least the following issues:

  • Whether and to what extent enforcement of a state’s meal and rest break laws with respect to intrastate property-carrying truck drivers has impacted the health and safety of drivers.
  • Whether enforcement of state meal and rest break laws as applied to interstate property-carrying truck drivers will exacerbate the existing truck parking shortages and result in more trucks parking on the side of the road, whether any such effect will burden interstate commerce or create additional dangers to drivers and the public, and whether the applicant intends to take any actions to mitigate or address any such effect.
  • Whether enforcement of a state’s meal and rest break laws as applied to interstate property-carrying truck drivers will dissuade carriers from operating in that state, whether any such effect will weaken the resiliency of the national supply chain, and whether the applicant intends to take any actions to mitigate or address any such effect.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


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