Editorial: End the Meal-and-Rest-Break Debate

Now that we finally we have some resolution on the issue of whether interstate truck drivers must follow federal or state rules regarding where and when they can take meal and rest breaks, it’s time to stop the legal wrangling and move forward.

The decision by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to grant petitions from American Trucking Associations and others to pre-empt California’s workplace rules should be the final word on the issue.

“Different rules in different states hands needless burdens on drivers, many of whom are small businesses fighting to make ends meet in a very competitive market,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez explained in announcing his agency’s decision Dec. 21. “A patchwork of regulations disrupts interstate commerce and is not an effective or fair way to regulate the industry.”

Federal pre-emption has been the law of the land since 1994, when lawmakers explicitly decreed that firms operating in interstate commerce are obligated to follow federal, not state, rules governing safety and working conditions.

And while California isn’t the only state with rules that diverge from federal regulations, it is the state where there has been the most aggressive enforcement activity, thanks in no small measure to an active plaintiffs bar that has managed to extract more than $500 million in judgments and private settlements in lawsuits against shippers and freight carriers over the past two decades.

It’s time to put an end to these disruptive and unproductive legal battles.

“This is a victory for highway safety,” said Chris Spear, president of ATA. “This 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.”

Paul Milotte, vice president of government affairs for the American Moving & Storage Association, also argued that California’s rules forced drivers to stop at arbitrary times and created confusion with little or no proven safety benefit.

“These regulations would have made it tougher for moving companies to operate in the state of California,” he noted.

So for those who seek to challenge this common sense decision, we say let it go. Let’s move on with the real business of moving freight and giving drivers one set of rules to follow.