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California tried to update its trucking laws to more closely resemble a typical work environment but was recently overruled. In an office setting, it’s suggested that employees take frequent breaks to stretch and refocus. Getting up from a desk and getting time away from the harsh blue light of a computer can be helpful for workplace wellness. While small breaks throughout the day are fine when you have to merely stand up from a desk, frequent breaks are more of an interruption than a relief for truckers.  When government regulations attempt to force them into the same box as office workers, their needs aren’t being properly met.

California’s Strict Break Requirements   

Typically, drivers get a 30-minute meal break per day and are not permitted to drive for more than 11 hours at a time. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit passed a law in 2014 that required California drivers to take a paid 10-minute break every 4 hours and a 30-minute meal break every 5 hours. The breaks were also required to be taken separately as to further break up driving. The law also pushed back total driving time allotted to 12 hours before stopping for the day to sleep and rest. These regulations are considerably stricter than the surrounding states’ rules, particularly the 10-minute break requirement that only adds tediousness to a drive. The inconsistency between states has drivers fearing for the efficiency and predictability of their routes.

Flaws in the Plan

While consistent breaks work effectively in a traditional office environment, the trucking industry is unique and doesn’t conform to the same standards of a typical workplace. After the passing of this law, national protest came from industry officials and benefactors alike. One group in particular who signed numerous petitions was the American Trucking Association (ATA). The law was designed by people who were supposedly unfamiliar with what truckers and transport businesses actually want and need. The law would greatly differ from regulations in other states, and therefore robs drivers of their consistency and routine. Having such different regulations from one state to another doesn’t allow truckers to properly plan their meal breaks and rest stops, as the timing would become complicated and tiresome.

Additionally, stopping too frequently breaks up work flow in a way that can actually be more tiring for drivers. In a more conventional office, breaks might help to relax and ease the stress of a workday, but for truckers, it can do the opposite. It also significantly cuts down on efficiency, so it’s a taxing financial regulation as well; less productive drivers mean longer transport times and more money spent per route. More time pulling off of the highway to take excessive breaks leads to less distance covered per day and therefore higher costs for transported product and harm done to the American consumer. In fact, driver productivity in California was reduced by three percent after these regulations were passed, according to an FMCSA Administrator.

FMCSA Grants Petitions

In 2018, the ATA filled a petition with the Department of Transportation (DOT) that proved all of the following points:

  • “California’s meal period and rest break laws offer no additional safety benefit beyond the safety benefit generated by the hours-of-service requirements
  • The laws are incompatible with the hours-of-service regulations enforced by the Department of Transportation
  • The meal and rest break laws cause an unreasonable burden to drivers and carriers operating in interstate commerce”

After a long debate, the DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granted the petition, stating that California trucking companies were no longer required to provide paid rest and meal breaks. While the law was initially set in place to create safer driving conditions for truckers, industry gurus asserted that more national consistency would lead to safer trucking practices as opposed to additional breaks.

Standards for American Drivers

While regulations that require excessive breaks can be a burden for productivity, the intent behind the California law was to decrease worker exploitation in the trucking industry, which is a persistent problem. Commercial truck drivers are often forced to work long hours without substantial breaks, and while California overstepped in execution, the industry is making strides by putting these necessities in a federally sanctioned domain. Truckers already work some of the country’s longest and most tiresome hours in our nation and need helpful standards to prevent their hard work from being exploited. Now that California trucking companies are no longer required to provide paid breaks, drivers can choose when and how they take them.

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