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November 16, 2020 3:45 PM, EST

FMCSA Says Washington’s Meal, Rest Rules Pre-Empted

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has determined that Washington state’s meal-and-rest-break rules for commercial truck drivers are pre-empted by federal hours-of-service regulations.

The determination, included in a notice scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on Nov. 17, honors a petition submitted by Washington Trucking Associations in April 2019.

According to the notice, FMCSA has determined that Washington’s meal-and-rest-break laws have no safety benefits that extend beyond those provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, are incompatible with federal HOS rules and place an “unreasonable burden” on interstate commerce.

FMCSA Meal Rest Break by Transport Topics

The agency’s decision has been cheered as a victory by trucking industry representatives. Bill Sullivan, executive vice president of advocacy for American Trucking Associations, said the determination provides key clarification regarding the two sets of rules that were governing rest breaks for truckers.

“It was confusing drivers, it was confusing carriers [and] it was making it possible for that confusion to be preyed on by trial attorneys,” Sullivan told Transport Topics. “Either there’s a federal standard or there are 50 of them, and in interstate commerce there should really be one.”

Regulations listed in the Washington Administrative Code state that employees are allowed a meal period of at least 30 minutes that commences no less than two hours and no more than five hours from the beginning of the shift and that no employee shall be required to work more than five consecutive hours without a meal period.

Additionally, Washington’s rules state employees working three or more hours longer than a normal workday are allowed at least one 30-minute meal period prior to or during overtime, and that employees are allowed a rest period of no fewer than 10 minutes for every four hours of working time.

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“Certainly nobody objects to a truck driver taking a 10-minute break when they need one, but a mandatory 10-minute break at specific intervals is really not feasible in the trucking industry the way it is for a retail worker or an office worker who can just stop what they’re doing for 10 minutes,” ATA Deputy General Counsel Rich Pianka told Transport Topics. “A truck driver can’t just hit the brakes.”

FMCSA’s action comes nearly two years after the agency determined federal rest-break laws pre-empt California’s separate meal-and-rest-break requirements. In its 2019 petition, WTA argued that FMCSA’s decision regarding California’s rules “compels the same conclusion with respect to Washington’s rules,” the Federal Register notice states.

“The pre-emption granting is a long-awaited result that we’re very happy about in Washington,” WTA Executive Vice President Sheri Call told Transport Topics. “I think we have yet to see how it will play out in Washington in the long run. We’re in the process of watching the political landscape in determining how to best communicate to our members what it means and what should their confidence level be in utilizing it as a policy internally.”

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