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FMCSA to revisit meal, rest break preemptions

Aug. 15, 2023
The trucking safety agency will consider waivers if petitioners can demonstrate that state labor rules are safe and won't interfere with interstate commerce. ATA decries potential 'confusing patchwork' of regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will consider petitions for waivers from the agency's 2018 determination that California meal and rest break (MRB) rules were preempted with respect to commercial drivers subject to federal hours-of-service regulations and from its similar determination in 2020 regarding Washington state's break rules.

The notice, officially published Aug. 14 in the Federal Register, states that any petitions for such a waiver be submitted by Nov. 13, after which petitions will be posted and open for public comment.

Under the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984, states are prohibited from enforcing a law or regulation on commercial motor vehicle safety that the transportation secretary has determined to be preempted by existing federal rules. Labor laws in California and Washington call for worker breaks beyond those specified by federal HOS rules.

In 2018, FMCSA granted petitions filed by American Trucking Associations (ATA) and others and determined that California's MRB rules were preempted. FMCSA granted a similar petition by the Washington Trucking Association preempting that state's MRB rules.

However, according to the new notice, FMCSA may grant a waiver of a preemption decision. Under this provision, a "person (including a state) may petition the secretary for a waiver of a decision of the secretary that a state law or regulation may not be enforced under this section." Further, "the secretary shall grant the waiver, as expeditiously as possible, if the person demonstrates to the satisfaction of the secretary that the waiver is consistent with the public interest and the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles."

FMCSA requests that any waiver petition address "relevant issues" and names three specific areas of interest:

  • Whether and to what extent enforcement of a state's meal and rest break laws has impacted the health and safety of drivers.
  • Whether enforcement of state meal and rest break laws 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 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.

ATA immediately responded in opposition to the notice and the potential for "a confusing patchwork of regulations" across the U.S.

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

Spear pointed out that Congress first addressed the issue "decades ago" by passing F4A, and the U.S. DOT's authority to preempt state rules was unanimously reaffirmed in a 2021 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

"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," Spear said. "Opening the door to this spurious litigation once again would impair the safe and efficient movement of interstate goods."

This story originally appeared on FleetOwner.com.