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April 11, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

One Country, One Nationwide Rest-Break Rule

This Opinion piece appears in the April 11 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Bill Graves

President & CEO

American Trucking Associations

In 1994, Congress wrote a bill authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition to keeping our skies safe, that bill laid down an important principle for our industry: that the federal government — not individual states — should write rules for interstate trucking.

Graves

A single set of rules is tremendously important for an industry that can see its drivers pass through several states in a day. So, it is of critical importance that the rules they use to plan their schedules and outline their trips are consistent as they cross those borders.

That consistency, however, is under attack in states such as California and elsewhere that want to force drivers into a confusing patchwork of work and rest rules outside of the uniform federal hours-of-service rules.

In that 1994 law, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, or F4A, Congress expressly said it wanted trucking to operate under a single, uniform system from coast to coast rather than a confusing and inefficient patchwork of state laws. Jump forward two decades, Congress’ will has been thwarted by states and a handful of courts that are refusing to faithfully uphold that goal of one country, one set of rules.

American Trucking Associations and other organizations are asking Congress to tell the courts, the plaintiffs’ bar, California and other states that it meant what it said when it passed this law with overwhelming bipartisan support: There should be one, single set of rules for truck drivers.

Imagine for a minute the chaos that would ensue if states were allowed to write their own hours-of-service rules. Even with a soon-to-be-mandated electronic logging device, remaining in compliance would be a bookkeeping nightmare. And all for no safety benefit.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency responsible for trucking safety across the country, has said that California’s break rules aren’t about highway safety.

These laws, and similar laws in other states, are designed for the general workforce — people who work in factories, stores, farms or offices — not truckers whose work and rest times are already extensively regulated at the federal level.

Unfortunately, the usual cast of characters that malign this industry on a regular basis are at it again, playing fast and loose with the facts about these state break laws, and the proposed legislative fix for them, so a rundown of the facts is in order.

First, this new legislation does not eliminate breaks for truck drivers — drivers are already required to split up driving time and take breaks if they are fatigued. What it does do is prevent an unnecessarily complex wrinkle from affecting an already difficult job.

Second, despite the claims of anti-trucking groups, this provision will not magically allow carriers to pay drivers less. In fact, the language expressly requires that drivers being paid by the mile or load receive as much or more compensation than if they had been paid by the hour. The issue of compensation methods is, as it often is, a red herring.

Finally, this anti-truck coalition claims it is speaking for drivers as it opposes this common-sense fix. However, a poll from Public Opinion Strategies found that two-thirds of truck drivers support a legislative fix such as the one for which ATA is advocating.

Trucks and truck drivers move America forward — hauling nearly 10 billion tons of freight annually. And since deregulation, our industry has developed into one of America’s most fair and equitable industries: an industry where a single entrepreneur can buy a single truck and compete with multibillion-dollar corporations for the same freight on a level playing field.

We shouldn’t let California — or any state — tip that playing field based on an accident of geography. Congress was right in 1994 when it said truckers working in interstate commerce need one set of rules. Congress needs to remind states that the best rules — the fairest ones — are the ones that the federal government sets, and that everyone — drivers, fleets and state regulators — should have to abide by them.

American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade federation in the trucking industry, has headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and affiliated associations in every state. ATA owns Transport Topics.