Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chow granted an American Trucking Associations petition arguing that state meal and rest breaks that do not meet national regulations must be pre-empted.
ATA has been targeting California in partricular because the Golden State had a cumbersome regulatory scheme governing meal and rest breaks that proved costly for employers to manage.
ATA’s position is that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act pre-empts these state rules, meaning they don’t apply to truck drivers who are involved in interstate commerce.
California’s stringent meal break rules attracted a horde of tort lawyers who exploited them to base lawsuits targeting trucking companies both large and small for enormous financial settlements.
Lawyers sought compensation for drivers who had not received state-mandated rest breaks, sometimes seeking judgments of hundreds of thousands of dollars for fleets with as few as 15 trucks.
ATA challenged the rules in court and asked Congress for relief without success, but found a more receptive ear at President Trump’s DOT.
“This is a victory for highway safety, not trial lawyers,” said ATA President Chris Spear. “We were forced to ask DOT and the Secretary for this important, common sense solution because congressional dysfunction and gridlock prevented Congress from reasserting itself.”
ATA Chairman Barry Pottle, president of Pottle’s Transportation, Herman, Maine, said: “For fleets like mine, knowing the rules will be the same for my drivers regardless of what state they’re delivering to is important.”
Derrick Whittle, a professional driver with Cargo Transporters Inc., agreed, commenting, “As a driver, being safe and well-rested is my primary concern, and having a single set of rules to follow whether I’m in California or Colorado makes it easier for me to do my job.”