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Providing Additional Clarity around FMCSA’s Recent Decision on California’s Meal & Rest Break Rules

By Dave Osiecki, Pres of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, LLC and Regulatory Consultant to Trimble Transportation


Late last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) determined that federal Hours of Service regulations preempt California’s (CA) meal and rest break (M&RB) rules. The decision was in response to several petitions from industry groups that asked the FMCSA to declare these California rules in violation in federal law.


The FMCSA stated that this decision was made “to ensure uniform and consistent rules in order to promote safety and economic growth. Drivers, consumers, and job creators are best served by reliable and consistent rules.”


How does this ruling impact you? We’ve compiled list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below to help you better understand what this FMCSA decision means to your fleet and drivers.


1. Where can I find the full text of FMCSA’s decision?

The full text of the ruling can be found here:


2. What is the ‘executive summary’ of FMCSA’s decision?

FMCSA concluded that the CA M&RB rules:

  1. are State laws or regulations “on commercial motor vehicle safety,” to the extent they apply to drivers of property carrying CMVs subject to FMCSA’s hours of service (HOS) rules;
  2. are additional to or more stringent than the FMCSA’s HOS rules;
  3. have no safety benefit beyond what is already provided by the FMCSA’s HOS rules;
  4. are incompatible with the FMCSA’s HOS rules; and
  5. enforcement of the M&RB ruiles would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.

As a result of these conclusions, FMCSA determined that the CA M&RB rules are preempted under a federal law (codified at U.S.C. § 31141).  FMCSA further stated that “California may no longer enforce the MRB Rules with respect to drivers of property-carrying CMVs subject to FMCSA’s HOS rules.(Emphasis added.)


3. Who does it apply to?

It applies to drivers of property-carrying CMVs (i.e., trucks) subject to FMCSA’s HOS rules.


4. Is FMCSA’s preemption decision in effect?

Yes, FMCSA’s decision was made and issued on December 21, 2018, and became effective that day.  [Note: Given the holiday season and usual time lag associated with formal publication of such decisions, the Federal Register Notice of FMCSA’s decision was published a week later on December 28, 2018.]


5. Does FMCSA’s decision impact enforcement of other State M&RB rules (e.g., OR rules, WA rules, etc.)?

FMCSA’s decision applies only to CA’s M&RB rules. Petitions challenging the M&RB rules in other states would have to be filed with the FMCSA before those rules would be considered preempted.


6. The Teamsters have already filed a legal challenge to FMCSA’s decision. How does this challenge affect FMCSA’s decision?
The Teamsters petitioned for review of FMCSA’s decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on December 27, 2018.  FMCSA’s preemption decision remains in effect while the court considers the challenge.


7How long will it take for the federal court to make a decision on the Teamsters’ challenge?
There is no timeline by which the court is bound, and there are wide variances in the amount of time the court can take to decide.  Similar challenges to agency actions generally fall within a 6-month to 2-year timeframe.


8. What are the implications for motor carriers and drivers going forward?
Although FMCSA has determined that the CA M&RB rules are preempted, given that there has already been one legal challenge filed, there are risks to changing operating practices to end compliance with the CA M&RB rules.  Some risks to consider include:

  1. If a challenge is successful (other parties have 60 days from the FMCSA determination to bring their own challenge) and the FMCSA decision is vacated, the CA M&RB rules will be deemed to have been in effect during the time between December 21, 2018 and the court’s decision. Failure to comply with the M&RB rules until a final decision is issued by the court could result in exposure for violations of the M&RB rules in the meantime; and
  2. Perhaps less likely, a court could view the statute under which FMCSA based its decision as prohibiting the State – but not private parties – from enforcing the CA M&RB rules


At Trimble, we are here to help fleets like yours better understand regulations to ensure you and your drivers stay safe and fully compliant. Click here for more information on how we can help you operate safer and more efficiently than ever before.

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