DOT Preempts California Meal And Rest Breaks Laws Under Federal Hazmat Regulations

California requires an employer to provide employees who works more than five hours with a 30-minute uninterrupted, off-duty meal break (and another meal break if they work more than 10 hours). State law also requires an employer to provide employees with a 10-minute uninterrupted, off-duty break every four hours.1 Regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), on the other hand, require only that a commercial driver not drive more than eight hours without first taking a 30-minute, off-duty meal break.2

This conflict between California and federal law regarding drivers of Hazardous Materials ("Hazmat") was resolved by the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in response to a petition from the National Tank Truck Carriers, Inc. (NTTC).3 Under 49 U.S.C. § 125, the PHMSA is vested with the authority to declare a state law to be preempted by the Federal Hazardous Material Transportation Law and the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).4 On September 21, 2018, the PHMSA did just that by issuing a "Notice of Administrative Determination of Preemption" in which it held California's meal and rest break requirements to be preempted by the HMR because they (1) caused unnecessary delay in transporting hazardous materials, (2) conflicted with HMR attendance requirements, and (3) were an obstacle to HMR security objectives.5

Unnecessary Delay in the Transportation of Hazmat Freight. The HMR requires shipments of hazardous materials to be transported without unnecessary delay because delay is "incongruous with safe transportation" as any delay increases the time when an accident may occur.6 Likewise, state requirements that directly or indirectly divert hazardous materials onto longer, more circuitous routes are inconsistent with the HMR. Yet, California law requires a driver to pull over and take a break at least four separate times during an 11-hour shift (two 30-minute meal breaks and two 10-minute rest breaks), even though federal law requires only a single 30-minute break during a 14-hour on-duty shift. The PHMSA preempted California's meal and rest break requirements as to drivers transporting hazardous materials because California's requirements create an unnecessary delay in the transportation of hazardous materials.

Conflict with HMR Attendance Requirements. The HMR requires a motor vehicle (1) to be attended at all times by its driver if it contains certain categories of explosive materials...

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