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FMCSA Proposes Rollbacks to Driver Rest-Break Rules

08/17/2023 19:24

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed new changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for commercial truck drivers.

The proposed changes would significantly impact the driver rest-break rules or duty-break rules, increasing the flexibility of the current regulations.

The FMCSA claims that these changes would benefit the industry by allowing drivers to take breaks when they need them and reducing the number of trucks on the road during peak hours. This impacts road safety and other safety benefits off the road.

In this blog post, we will talk about some safety advocates and industry experts who are concerned that these changes would lead to more driver fatigue and increase the risk of accidents on the road.

The Revisions on the Rest-Break Rules

The regulatory body is contemplating the possibility of revising its previous decisions regarding federal preemption of work rules for truck drivers especially during adverse driving conditions occur.

They are considering granting waivers to individuals who can demonstrate that the stricter state regulations in California and Washington provide a safer environment for drivers.

So should this alarm short-haul drivers? 

Will they really have less truck driver fatigue experience when in these states? 

Will commercial vehicles, heavy trucks, and commercial motor vehicle drivers across these states experience fewer crash risks (risks of crashes) or even fatal crashes even with a different 30-minute break rule?  

On Friday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that it will review requests for waivers regarding its ruling issued on December 21, 2018. This ruling confirmed that the California Meal and Rest Break (MRB) regulations, as well as the Washington state MRB regulations, are preempted by federal law.

These rulings were established during the previous administration led by President Trump.

The waiver requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and the agency will take into account various factors before making any decisions. This development may have implications for companies operating in the transportation industry or even the motor carrier industry, and could potentially impact their compliance requirements, especially on adverse conditions.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has stated that petitions for a waiver from the California and Washington rulings can be submitted at any time but is urging interested parties to submit their petitions by November 13, 2023 time frame.

The FMCSA has indicated that it will make public any petitions it receives and invite comments from members of the public.

Interested parties are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to voice their concerns and engage in the regulatory process of the service rules.

Rules in California and Washington

Did you know that California and Washington have more stringent MRB (meal and rest break) rules compared to the federal government?

In California, truck drivers and other employees are required to have a 30-minute meal break or the 30-minute rest break if they work more than five hours in a day. Additionally, if they work a shift of 10 hours or more, they are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. Apart from meal breaks, employees are also entitled to a 10-minute rest period or 30-minute break for every four hours worked in a day. Washington also has similar rules in place. As an employer, it's essential to adhere to these rules to ensure that your employees receive adequate breaks during their work hours.

The regulations regarding hours-of-service for commercial drivers have been updated recently by the federal government, granting more flexibility to employers. Nevertheless, these rules state that drivers must take a 30-minute break after eight hours of driving time, rather than on-duty time. Furthermore, an on-duty period without driving can also be considered as fulfilling the mandatory break.

Insights from The International Brotherhood of Teamsters

In an effort to challenge the California preemption determination made by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), The International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ultimately ruled against them.

The Teamsters further opposed the Washington preemption, contending that the state's MRB rules posed a safety risk by exacerbating the shortage of safe truck parking. As a result, drivers were forced to spend additional time searching for parking and may even resort to unsafe locations to rest.

At present, there has been no prompt response from the Teamsters regarding their intention to request a waiver from FMCSA.

Insights from The American Trucking Association

The American Trucking Association requested FMCSA to determine preemptively on a matter, and they believe that the latest decision by FMCSA will negatively affect interstate freight movement, which could result in additional expenses for the carriers. According to ATA President and CEO Chris Spear, it is vital to maintain a consistent national standard of work rules for professional drivers to ensure the safety of all and the efficiency of the supply chain.

Currently, federal law requires drivers to take rest breaks during their shifts. However, some states have implemented similar laws which are deemed unnecessary and duplicative. Instead of prioritizing safety, these laws have been enforced through private lawsuits that seek to extort the trucking industry. If these laws were to be reinstated, it could impede the safe and efficient transportation of goods across state lines. The American Trucking Association (ATA) is committed to opposing these efforts as they would result in a confusing patchwork of regulations. The ATA intends to utilize all available resources to prevent this from happening.

Insights from P. Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting

Scopelitis Transportation Consulting's co-director, P. Sean Garney, concurred with the ATA's evaluation that the FMCSA's decision to preempt the meal and rest break laws in California and Washington was a beneficial move for the commerce and safety of the industry.

Garney emphasized that interstate carriers can now manage their hours of service more efficiently without having to navigate through multiple state rules regimes. As per the National Conference of State Legislatures, approximately 21 states, including California and Washington, have varying degrees of regulations governing meal and rest break requirements.

  • States with meal and rest laws:

    • California

    • Colorado

    • Connecticut

    • Delaware

    • Illinois

    • Kentucky

    • Maine

    • Maryland

    • Massachusetts

    • Minnesota

    • Nebraska

    • Nevada

    • New Hampshire

    • New York

    • North Dakota

    • Oregon

    • Rhode Island

    • Tennessee

    • Vermont

    • Washington

    • West Virginia

The FMCSA has requested that all waiver petitions tackle the following key issues as a minimum:

  • The degree to which the implementation of the meal and rest break regulations for truck drivers transporting goods within a state has affected the well-being and safety of the drivers is a pertinent question.

  • This inquiry aims to determine the potential impact of enforcing state laws regarding meal and rest breaks for truck drivers who transport goods across state lines. Specifically, it seeks to assess whether such enforcement would worsen the already limited availability of parking spaces for trucks, potentially leading to more cases of trucks parking on the roadside. Additionally, it aims to evaluate whether this effect would have negative consequences for interstate commerce or pose risks to drivers and the public. Finally, the inquiry seeks to inquire as to whether the applicant plans to take any measures to address or prevent any of these potential effects.

  • The inquiry pertains to the implementation of meal and rest break regulations for cross-state truck drivers, and whether such provisions may discourage commercial operators from conducting business in a particular state. Additionally, it is being considered whether this could potentially impact the durability and adaptability of the nationwide supply chain. The applicant's intentions with regard to addressing or reducing any such consequences are also being examined.

In Conclusion

To conclude, the proposed rollbacks to driver rest-break rules by the FMCSA have stirred up a heated debate within the trucking industry.

While some argue that these changes will help alleviate the driver shortage and provide more flexibility, others are concerned about the impact on driver safety and well-being. It remains to be seen how the FMCSA will address these concerns and any potential unintended consequences that may arise from the proposed changes. As always, it's important for all stakeholders to stay informed and engaged in the ongoing conversation surrounding these regulations.

If you want to stay updated with the current trends in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

Moreover, are you looking for a company to help you to stay DOT and FMCSA compliant? We at Labworks USA can support you.

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