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Heller: Patchwork of state regulations raises more trucking concerns

June 6, 2024
As state regulations on meal breaks, speed limiters, and marijuana use continue to diverge from federal standards, trucking faces confusion and compliance challenges.

If your wallet is anything like mine, you have a little less in there because of the rising costs of almost everything. One constant in your billfold is that every dollar is issued by the United States of America and marked as a Federal Reserve Note. A single currency for all 50 states eliminates the need for each state to issue its own currency. In other words, you don’t need California dollars when you travel to the West Coast, and you don’t need Florida dollars when visiting Disney World.  

While our monetary system abides by a single federal standard to prevent confusion and inconvenience, a troubling trend is regulatory issues that seem to be promulgated on a state-by-state basis. 

In this particular instance, California stands out as the most obvious example. I previously wrote about the California meal and rest break laws, which the state has applied for an FMCSA waiver to implement. The professional truck driver does not operate in a state vacuum, and California is no different. A driver’s typical day can involve crossing multiple state lines, so abiding by rules at a state level when operating in interstate commerce can lead to confusion and non-compliance, especially if these laws are constantly changing. 

Meal and rest breaks are one thing, but states are also beginning to follow suit with technology in the industry. Speed limiters certainly come to mind here. Once again, California has proposed a bill requiring 2027 model year and newer vehicles to have a speed limiter preventing them from traveling more than 10 mph over the speed limit. If passed, drivers would still be able to override the system temporarily. Still, the bigger question is why states are considering a patchwork of laws ahead of potential federal regulations. 

It’s no secret that the FMCSA is working on a rule that would require speed limiters on commercial vehicles. Due diligence takes time, especially in the world of federal agencies. However, if or when the FMCSA issues a rule that differs from the state rule, confusion is certain to set in. 

Are there instances where this is already the case? Although state laws continue to legalize the use of marijuana, federally speaking, professional truck drivers operating in interstate commerce are prohibited from ingesting the substance, knowing it would be detected under DOT drug screenings. Ultimately, the moment another state legalizes the drug, inquiries regarding drivers and their ability to use the drug arise due to the contrast between federal and state laws. 

See also: Regulations outlook: What will impact trucking operations

I am not advocating the use of marijuana. In our industry, state laws often get thrown into the mix among the giant bucket of rules and regulations that our drivers must abide by federally. As one nation, we should set rules and regulations that make the driving job easier, not muddying the waters of regulations that drivers and carriers alike are trying to decipher.

While California is easy to point out for its meal and rest break laws, AB5, and recent emission regulations, it is not the only state that has walked this befuddling path, especially since similar rules have been or are currently being developed by the federal government.

Washington has also applied for waivers to enforce its meal and rest break laws, and New York City is proposing a rule that would require side underride guards for vehicles traveling in the city and registered in the state. Though California’s law has drawn the most attention, similar AB5 legislation has popped up among other states, including New Jersey, New York, and Washington.

We can all agree that one federal standard works best for our industry. It eliminates confusion, redundancy, and questions about compliance. Being a professional truck driver is a tough job, and our government entities should recognize that by not making the profession harder but rather easier.

Remember, these knights of the road continue to rise to the occasion by stocking our shelves, feeding the hungry, and providing medicine to those who need it. This is clearly a profession that should be applauded, not admonished by imposing different rules that may or likely will be promulgated by the federal government. 

Next time you pull a dollar from your wallet, imagine what it would look like to have separate bills for each state you visit. That’s a problem our professional drivers should avoid.

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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