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Strange Bedfellows: California, the Teamsters, the FMCSA, and Motor Carrier Rest Rules

Until recently, California had rules essentially requiring that truck drivers take one 10 minute rest break every four hours, and one 30 minute meal break after every five hours of driving.  Federal Law, however, required a 30 minute break after every eight hours of driving.  The result was some confusion over which law applied in California, and arguably, whether both applied in California, possibly resulting in 90 minutes of break-time in a 10 hour period.

American law recognizes a concept called “preemption,” a doctrine coming out of the language of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declaring that the Constitution, “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”  Under preemption, where Congress has specifically “occupied the field” of an area of regulation, Federal Law “preempts,” or overrides, any state legislation on that topic.  This doctrine promotes uniformity of law throughout the country, and prevents subjecting people to what Court’s have referred to as a “patchwork” of laws and regulations. 

Following years of debate over the topic, a period of public comment, and a public speech by FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez, The FMCSA has determined that California cannot have its own, separate, rules on motor carrier break requirements.  While the December 21, 2018 determination itself is 40 pages, the FMCSA made clear up front what the result was, and why:

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. 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. 

Not surprisingly, the Teamsters are not happy with this outcome, and California is considering taking legal action as well.  Regardless, barring Congressional action (which seems unlikely since Congress can’t even agree to keep the government running at this point) the FMCSA break standards are not only the law of the land, they’re likely to be that way indefinitely.  More importantly, the FMCSA flexed some muscle, showing that it will act to override contrary state law.  This makes that agency a likely new battleground for trucking companies, states, drivers, and companies that require interstate shipping.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact Dov Szego (804-377-1263) at dszego@setlifflaw.com, or Steve Setliff (804-377-1261) at ssetliff@setlifflaw.com.