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Supply Chain News: In Latest Legal Battle Between Feds and State Rules, Truckers Win One


FMCSA Strikes Down HOS Rules in California as Infringing on Federal Freight Regulation Primacy


Jan. 1, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Over the past few years, there have been growing tensions relative to rules on state-specific rules on trucking, covering hours of service, environmental issues, policies relative to contract drivers, and more, creating a nightmare for trucking companies facing a landscape of different rules for different states.

It is for that reason that three decades ago Congress passed legislation giving control over US interstate freight carriage exclusively to federal authorities, notable the Dept. of Transportation and its agencies such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

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SCDigest guesses this will hardly be the last battle over state versus federal rules on truckers, even though freight haulers carrier the day on this one.

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In an interesting twist, while trucking interests have battled with the FMSCA in recent years over such issues as new hours of service rules, truckers have also been looking to the agency for help in reining in the growing number of state rules, which they find contrary to long-standing federal control over such policies.

So truckers were relieved by a Dec. 21 ruling from the FMCSA that which the agency said would grant trucking industry petitions to preempt the state of California's rules relative to meal and rest break for truck drivers, which differ from current federal hours of service regulations.

Federal rules provide for less required driver downtime. California's labor code provides for a 30-minute meal break for shifts of five hours or more for all workers in the state. California laws also establish a right for workers in the transportation industry to a 10-minute break for every four working hours.

Federal hours of service rules, on the other hand, impose daily limits on driving time, and require long-haul truck drivers to take at least 30 minutes off no less than eight hours after starting a shift if they plan to drive for more than eight hours in a day.

The FMCSA announcement stated that the action, approved by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, comes "in response to widespread concern from drivers, concerned citizens, and industry stakeholders. In 1996, the agency noted, Congress preempted states from enacting or enforcing policies "related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier."

It also said that the US DOT has determined that California's law is "incompatible with Federal regulations and causes a disruption in interstate commerce. In addition, the confusing and conflicting requirements are overly burdensome for drivers and reduce productivity, increasing costs for consumers."

The FMSCA also noted many safety issues have likely resulted from the lack of adequate parking solutions for trucks in California, not HOS rule deficiencies.

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The American Trucking Associations, a trade group representing truckers, commented that the decision is "a common sense safety ruling that asserts the federal government's critical role in regulating interstate commerce."

The move comes after the ATA had petitioned to the DOT in September to strike down the meal-and-rest break rules imposed by California on the grounds that "a patchwork of rules related to driver hours of service harms safety, is in conflict with federal rules and causes an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce."

In an uncommon move, the ATA looked to the DOT for intervention after its lobbying efforts in recent years to move a bill through Congress that would have resolved this issue legislatively were unsuccessful.

ATA President and Chief Executive Chris Spear said in a statement that the decision "will save jobs, unburden businesses throughout the supply chain and keep the prices Americans pay for food, clothing and countless other essential items affordable and accessible."

SCDigest guesses this will hardly be the last battle over state versus federal rules on truckers, even though freight haulers carrier the day on this one.

Any reaction to the FMCSA's ruling? Good or bad?  Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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