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Lawmakers urge DOT to deny pre-emption petition on California’s meal and rest break rules

California highway
Photo: MCCAIG/iStockphoto

Washington — A group of 19 congressional Democrats is urging, “in the strongest possible terms,” the Department of Transportation to deny a recent American Trucking Associations petition on California’s meal and rest break rules for commercial truck drivers.

ATA has asked DOT to make a determination on whether federal laws pre-empt California’s rules, which entitle drivers to a 30-minute off-duty mealtime after each five hours of work. The rules also call for a 10-minute rest period for every four hours of work or one hour’s pay for each day drivers do not receive the meal/rest period.

In a letter sent Oct. 31 to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the lawmakers state that pre-emption would “have a dramatic impact on the rights of states to protect the safety of the public, to maintain highway safety and to provide for the well-being of commercial truck drivers.”

ATA’s petition, submitted Sept. 24, claims that California’s rules are incompatible with federal hours-of-service rules, and would add “at a conservative estimate, 80 minutes of additional non-productive time to a 10-hour day beyond the requirements of the federal HOS rules.” The organization also asserts that “by arbitrarily forcing trucks off the road more frequently, state rules like California’s also contribute to a critical shortage of truck parking, with serious safety implications.”

The submission of that petition came three days after the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration granted National Tank Truck Carriers Inc. a pre-emption request.

In a notice published in the Sept. 21 Federal Register, PHMSA states that the California regulations “create an unnecessary delay” for transporting hazardous materials and that the state’s rules are in conflict with the attendance requirements for certain transporters. An attendance requirement means that drivers can be no more than 100 feet away from their commercial motor vehicle, awake and not in a sleeper berth, and with an unobstructed view of said CMV at all times.

In their letter, the lawmakers point out that DOT, courts and Congress have denied the trucking industry’s previous arguments for pre-emption. They also note that drivers can agree to waive meal or rest breaks as long as they are compensated for the time worked.

“We strongly maintain that any change to pre-emption in this area requires a change in statute and must be left to Congress,” they wrote.

Among the lawmakers who signed the letter is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who is expected to take over as chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure when the 116th Congress is scheduled to convene Jan. 3. 

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