The state of Washington agreed last week to dismiss an appeal of a decision that found the state’s truck driver meal and rest break (MRB) rules are preempted by federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.
The appeal was filed in December 2020 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a month after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration decided in support of a petition filed by the Washington Trucking Associations (WTA) that FMCSA’s driver work rules preempt Washington state’s MRB rules.
In January 2021, just weeks after the state filed its appeal, the same court rejected a similar appeal by the state of California challenging FMCSA’s determination, made two years prior, that California cannot enforce state meal and rest break rules that conflict with federal hours-of-service regulations. That decision presumably influenced the action taken by Washington — albeit more than 18 months later.
“Our decision to dismiss was based on outcomes in a similar case, as we weigh whether to seek a different outcome through administrative means,” Matt Ross, a spokesman for Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries, told FreightWaves. Ross did not elaborate on potential options.
WTA President and CEO Sheri Call, who heads the group that had petitioned the FMCSA to make the preemption determination that was the focus of the appeal, commented that “hopefully this a positive development for strengthening — or at least maintaining — federal preemption on our meal and rest break rules.”
Federal HOS regulations require long-haul truckers to take a break of at least 30 minutes after eight hours of driving time. Washington’s MRB rules — which are similar to California’s — go even further, requiring a 30-minute meal period for every five consecutive hours of driving as well as a 10-minute rest break for every four additional hours.
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Such rules complement federal HOS rules, Washington state officials argued, and provide an important backstop in reducing the risk of trucker fatigue while driving. The rules also do not disrupt the flow of interstate commerce because they apply only to Washington state employers of Washington-based employees, they contended.
But WTA and its supporters — including the American Trucking Associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various trucking companies — have asserted the opposite in saying the rules are additional to, and more stringent than, federal HOS rules.
In addition, “Washington’s break rules represent an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce for much the same reasons FMCSA recently concluded California’s do,” WTA stated in its 2019 preemption petition to the agency, because they decrease driver available duty hours by requiring additional off-duty time and additional “dead time” associated with extra trips off the highway to find places to take breaks.
The National Industrial Transportation League also pointed out in comments supporting WTA that allowing different driver break rules in various states “would exacerbate confusion among shippers, drivers and carriers, create unnecessary complexity and undermine compliance. A patchwork quilt of meal and rest break rules would translate into substantial additional decreases in efficiency and productivity.”
FMCSA agreed, citing data from the National Conference of State Legislatures that says 20 states, in addition to Washington, regulate meal and rest break requirements in varying degrees.
“Having concluded that Washington’s MRB rules unreasonably burden interstate commerce, the agency further determines that the cumulative effect of other states’ similar laws would increase the burden,” the agency ruled.