Bus drivers in California are now exempt from mandatory meal and rest breaks by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In a notice printed in the Federal Register on January 21st, FMCSA granted the American Bus Association’s petition, which requested preemption of the state’s break rules regarding passenger-carrying drivers.
Currently, federal law allows preemption of state laws for commercial vehicles and their safety that are either in addition to or more stringent than national regulations–but only if they are incompatible with federal regulations and have no safety benefit, or if they would bring unnecessary burdens to interstate commerce.
The most recent preemption before this was granted in December of 2018, and was issued for drivers of property-carrying vehicles, as commanded by the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association and the American Trucking Associations. This preemption has pending cases after being challenged by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The California Labor Code calls for a “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for employees working at least five hours a day, in addition to a second 30-minute meal break for those working at least 10 hours.
On January 10th, the American Bus Association petitioned to preempt these statutes as applied to drivers of passenger-carrying vehicles.
“FMCSA acknowledges that the state of California has a legitimate interest in promoting driver and public safety. However, just as the federal HOS and other provisions in the FMCSRs serve to promote that interest with respect to drivers of property-carrying CMVs, so do they serve to promote it for drivers of passenger-carrying CMVs,” said the notice.
Still, the FMCSA found that California’s meal and rest break rules give no further safety benefits beyond federal regulations, and that they also impede safety due to the current issue of CMVs parking in unsafe areas.
Additionally, the agency decided the California rules were particularly incompatible with federal hours-of-service regulations because they meant employers would have to give commercial motor vehicle drivers more breaks at less flexible times in a shift.
“The FMCSA has determined that California’s (meal and rest break) rules…are more stringent than they agency’s hours of service regulations, …have no safety benefits that extend beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, … are incompatible with the federal hours of service regulations, and that they cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce,” the notice said.
The preemption notice went into effect with the Federal Register publication.
“Effective the date of this decision,” it said, “California may no longer enforce the (meal and rest break) rules with respect to drivers of passenger-carrying CMVs subject to FMCSA’s HOS rules.”
This flexibility aligns perfectly with last autumn’s proposed safety regulation relaxation for truck drivers, which aimed to allow extended time on duty in addition to less-strict mandatory rest times.
That plan would allow drivers to divide their mandatory 10-hour break times into 5-5 or 6-4 hour splits, giving them total control over whether or not they rest during that time. It also would extend potential driving time by two hours for any driver working in “inclement weather” conditions and lengthen maximum on-duty periods from 12 to 14 hours.
Many against these regulations point to government data showing large truck-involved crashes hitting a 10-year high in 2017, with the National Transportation Safety Board focusing on fatigued driving in particular.
The board says this issue is even more serious than statistics may show, and has made fatigue-related accidents an important part of its “Most Wanted List” of safety improvements throughout 2019 and 2020.
“Drowsy driving does not leave telltale signs, and, as a result, it is widely believed to be underreported on police crash forms,” said the NTSB. “Fatigue is particularly dangerous because it may result in risky behavior, such as poor judgment and decision making, slowed reaction times, and loss of situational awareness and control.”
Another major issue among truck drivers: wellness and nutrition. According to a 2010 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, obesity rates among truckers have been at least twice as high than those of the general population for the nine years prior. This is often likely due to few opportunities to exercise or find health options for meals while on the road–which surely extends to bus drivers as well.
By giving CMV drivers the choice to forego meal and rest times while sitting for hours on end behind the wheel, not only is their own health at stake, but the repercussions from having even more fatigued drivers could mean many more dangerous road situations ahead.