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FMCSA grants trucking industry request for federal pre-emption of California meal and rest break laws

California highway
Photo: MCCAIG/iStockphoto

Washington — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Dec. 21 granted a petition to pre-empt California’s meal and rest break rules for commercial motor vehicle drivers, stating that the rules are incompatible with current federal hours-of-service regulations and cause “a disruption in interstate commerce.”

The American Trucking Associations submitted the petition Sept. 24, asking whether federal law (49 USC 31141) allows for an override of the California regulations, 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.

ATA claimed that the state’s rules 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 asserted 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.”


A group of 19 congressional Democrats urged FMCSA to deny the petition in a letter sent to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Oct. 31, stating the 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.”

In its determination, FMCSA states that federal law provides for pre-emption of state laws that “are additional to or more stringent than federal regulations” if they have no safety benefit, are incompatible with federal regulations, or would cause “an unreasonable burden” on interstate commerce.

The agency concluded that California’s meal and rest break laws would have “no safety benefits that extended beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations.” It adds that the laws are incompatible with federal HOS rules and would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.

“Safety is FMCSA’s top priority, and having uniform rules is a key component to increasing safety for our truck drivers,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez said in a Dec. 21 press release. “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 International Brotherhood of Teamsters, meanwhile, stated its opposition to the agency’s action in a Dec. 30 press release.

“FMCSA’s suggestion that California’s meal and rest break rules negatively impact highway safety is ludicrous,” the union states in the release. “The idea that providing a 10-minute rest break after four hours and a 30-minute meal after five hours somehow makes the roads less safe is beyond comprehension. This is simply a giveaway to the trucking industry at the expense of driver safety.”

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