Last fall, one part of the new FAST ACT (the federal transportation funding bill that became law in December 2015) did not make it out of legislative debate and into the law books: the proposal to have federal law block the states’ ability to pass their own state standards on when commercial truck drivers have to take rest breaks, and how long those rest breaks need to be.
California, for instance, has passed state statutes that apply to truckers hauling cargo on California roads. These are labor laws passed by the state’s Industrial Welfare Commission that mandate meal and rest breaks for truck drivers in that state. Specifically, truckers in California have to take a meal break of “not less than 30 minutes” after being on the job for five hours – unless they aren’t going to work longer than a six hour shift. They also get a rest break of 10 minutes after working for 4 hours. It’s state law.
Trucking companies tried to take care of this problem over in California by filing a federal lawsuit. It didn’t work. The Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the California statute was just fine.
See, Dilts v. Penske Logistics, LLC, 769 F.3d 637 (9th Cir. 2014), where the federal appeals court held that “… generally applicable wage laws do not `bind’ motor carriers to specific prices, routes, or services, and thus are not preempted under the FAAAA.”
So, the fight moved over to Washington, where there was a federal fight to get a law passed by Congress to block states from doing this sort of thing. This was a part of the FAST Act debate that didn’t succeed. But it’s not over. Now, there’s another proposed bill that works to do the same thing, as part of the proposed Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016.
If this effort wins, then states like California, Illinois, or Indiana, will be unable to exert control over the working conditions or routines of commercial drivers in their jurisdictions. Even if there’s a really good argument that the federal regulations aren’t doing enough to protect us all from deadly truck crashes.
It is true that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) already blocks states from passing state laws that work to interfere with the services provided by trucking companies (like statutes that impact their routes, for instance).This is seen as important for the national interest, so that we have a smooth, national trucking industry that isn’t hampered by a bunch of different laws each time the truck driver crosses a state line. That makes sense.
However, the reality is that federal laws regarding “hours of service” (HOS) for truck drivers have been fought over long and hard for years in the halls of Congress. The larger trucking companies are a powerful force there. What the California law does, via its labor laws designed to protect the rights of workers, has been to increase the mandated rest breaks and meal breaks for these big rig semi truck drivers.
The proposed federal law would block this by stating that state laws cannot do anything that has to do with the federal HOS regulations. Even if it gives the truck driver more time to recuperate and reenergize before they get back on the road.
So, will this second bite at the apple work in Congress this year? We’ll know soon enough.
Truck Driver Fatigue Causes Fatal Truck Crashes
However, what we already know is this: truck drivers that are not alert and energetic as they operate those huge machines are a danger to themselves and others who share the roads with them. Truck drivers who suffer fatigue are much more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel or to fail to respond to hazards or dangers on the road in time to prevent a crash.
1. Illinois Truck Crash Caused by Truck Driver Who Fell Asleep at the Wheel After Driving Over 14 Hours Straight
Last month, over in Cook County, a truck driver was found guilty of driving over his 14-hour limit, and driving while fatigued, which resulted in a fatal traffic accident where Illinois State Police Trooper James Sauter was rear-ended and killed in the semi truck crash.
2. Tracy Morgan Truck Crash Investigation Revealed Trucker Had Not Slept for 28 Hours
This is far from a rare occurance in this country. We all remember the horror of those media stories showing the Wal-Mart truck crash with the limo-van carrying beloved comedian Tracy Morgan and his friends, one of whom perished in the trucking accident. Both the company and the driver are still facing the legal consequences of that semi truck crash. Civil suits have been filed. Criminal action has also been taken against the truck driver, Kevin Roper.
It has already been confirmed that before the Tracy Morgan truck crash, the trucker had been awake for 28 hours straight, working on the job behind the wheel of that heavy Wal-Mart truck. Truck driver fatigue has been cited as the cause of the Tracy Morgan accident by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Truck Drivers and Those Involved in Truck Crashes Are All Potential Fatal Truck Crash Victims
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that truck crashes are the reason that 65% of U.S. truck drivers die in this country. Truck accidents are the main reason that truckers are killed while working on the job. That same report also found that 33% of truckers who drive long distances (”long haul truckers”) had been in at least one serious truck crash while driving a semi truck or big rig.
This, added on to the continuing concerns about all of us who drive the roads alongside these big rig semi trucks and are vulnerable to these truckers making serious errors.
State Labor Laws Help Truck Drivers: Why Block California’s Efforts?
When a state tries to enforce safety for its workers, especially in this area where we all know that the federal system is not doing enough to protect truck drivers and others on the road with them from fatigue accidents, then maybe it’s a good thing to let that state law stand. Like the California law.
Won’t the roads of California be safer for it? Shouldn’t other states be free to do the same? Let’s all be careful out there.