At least a few California truck drivers prefer to drive without mandated rest periods applying that would require them to stop and rest more. Others believe that rest requirements keep roadways safe. As reported by The Mercury News, when compared to federal laws regarding mandatory breaks, California permits truck drivers to rest more frequently. However, California law is in danger of federal preemption depending on whether new proposed federal legislation is passed. Under current law, while in California, truck drivers may take one half-hour break for meals every five hours worked, and one ten-minute break for rest every four hours worked. At present, federal law requires drivers to take one half-hour break after eight hours of driving. In other words, truck drivers passing through California have the option to take breaks more frequently if they choose.
The provisions related to rest and breaks are designed to make the roadways safer and benefit driver health. Truck drivers who favor legislation that would permit more frequent breaks refer to studies that show that fatigue is one of the most common causes of truck accidents. Other drivers say that any legislation that mandates more frequent stops for breaks may exacerbate driver fatigue in some circumstances.
If the proposed federal legislation becomes law, California and other states will not be able to set their own standards for meal and rest breaks because the state law will be directly preempted by federal law. Federal preemption, according to FindLaw, occurs when a state law conflicts with a federal law. Constitutional law requires that when such a conflict occurs, the federal law has authority over the state law.
There is always a question about whether a state like California should be able to dictate its own rules for truck drivers without risk of preemption because Californians, presumably, have a better understanding of the risks inherent on California roadways. If that is the case, the question may also arise as to whether a truck driver’s discretion over whether and when to take breaks should give rise to a greater duty of care when it comes to his or her driving in California. If a California driver failed to take a break when such was permitted, and causes an accident that might not have otherwise happened, a driver could, conceivable, be more liable for the damage caused because of that failure.