Matt Powers
Matt Powers · April 23, 2020

Arlington, Va.—The Institute for Justice (IJ) sent open letters to six states calling on authorities to rescind their prohibition on food trucks operating at highway rest areas. Commercial truck drivers are delivering essential goods like medical devices, groceries and PPEs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now states can help drivers keep doing just that by letting mobile vendors provide them with fresh, hot meals. But, regulators in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia are still preventing food trucks from providing hot meals to hard working truck drivers.

“Beating COVID-19 means getting critical supplies to where they need to go. That means supporting America’s truck drivers, including giving them more food options,” said IJ Legislative Counsel Jessica Gandy. “But in many states, stay-at-home orders have closed restaurants and left those drivers hungry.”

Federal policy has long made it harder for drivers to get the services they need to operate safely. For decades, the federal government has prohibited commercial food trucks from operating at rest areas. States had to honor that prohibition or else risk losing their federal highway funds. This prohibition meant drivers traditionally had to fend for whatever they might happen to find in vending machines. But in response to the ongoing pandemic, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has declared that it will not enforce that prohibition. Many states have followed suit, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia. But Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia have yet to act, spurring IJ to action.

“Food trucks have a vital role to play in America’s COVID-19 response. By operating at rest areas, these vendors can provide truck drivers with additional food options that help with their long hours on the road,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer. “States should get out of the way by letting these kitchens on wheels help feed this essential industry.”

But even while COVID-19 rages, entrenched interests like truck stops and restaurants are fighting to reduce options for drivers. In a letter to the FHWA, a coalition led by the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) complained about how food trucks operating at rest areas could hurt their bottom line. Even though the primary goal should be getting hot, fresh food to truck drivers, NATSO asked the FHWA to allow food trucks only at rest areas that aren’t a competitive threat to its members and to resume banning food trucks altogether once the pandemic comes to an end.

“NATSO’s demand that the FHWA drive off the competition, the public be damned, is shortsighted and counterproductive,” said Frommer. “Government exists to keep the public safe, not to dole out special protections to whatever industry group can lobby the best. Let truck drivers decide for themselves whether they want to go to a rest stop or to a food truck. They don’t need the government making that decision for them.”

IJ is a national nonprofit organization that has worked to remove and reduce licensing restrictions for nearly 30 years. Through its National Street Vending Initiative, IJ challenges anti-competitive laws that harm street vendors by unconstitutionally restricting their right to earn an honest living. The initiative helps vendors defeat such restrictions by bringing lawsuits in state and federal courts, equipping vendors to fight these restrictions through activism, and educating the public about the social and economic importance of street vending. IJ’s report on “Seven Myths and Realities About Food Trucks” tackles many of the common arguments against allowing food trucks. IJ also recommended policy proposals to encourage food trucks in the report “Food Truck Freedom.” These letters are part of IJ’s overall efforts to respond to the current health and economic crisis by working to cut red tape hampering individuals’ ability to help one another.

IJ Legislative Counsel Jessica Gandy, and Senior Attorney Robert Frommer, are available for interviews via phone and teleconference services. To schedule, please contact Matt Powers at [email protected] or call (631) 949-2328.