Our HFM Transportation department has received many inquiries from our motor carrier clients concerning compliance with meal and rest break rules for over-the-road drivers. Are they to follow California law or Federal law? We may finally be able to provide a definitive answer (at least for now).
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours-of-service rules preempt California’s meal and rest break rules when it comes to interstate trucking operations. The opinion, available here, confirms the FMCSA’s December 2018 determination that drivers involved in interstate commerce are exempt from California’s meal and rest break rules because California rules conflict with Federal hours-of-service regulations.
The opinion is important because it provides clarity for national motor carriers operating across the United States, who rightfully balked at the prospect of complying with a state-by-state patchwork of meal and rest break rules for interstate drivers. Instead, the three-judge 9th Circuit panel confirmed that “In this case, the FMCSA determined that federal law pre-empts California’s meal-and-rest-break rules, as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA’s own rest break regulations.” Although the Supreme Court is not shy of reversing the 9th Circuit, we would not expect a reversal from the highest court on this ruling affirming the FMCSA’s power to regulate interstate commerce.
We note that this opinion applies only to motor carriers involved in interstate commerce, and that motor carriers running purely intrastate operations are not affected by this ruling. Intrastate carriers will likely need to abide by California’s stricter meal and rest break rules. However, whether a commercial motor vehicle is operating in “interstate” vs. “intrastate” commerce is not as straight forward as whether one crosses a state line, and we recommend obtaining appropriate legal guidance if you have questions.
HFM’s industry-leading Transportation and Employment departments are available to answer any questions you have on this important ruling.