The idea is that semi-trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles shouldn’t be able to speed on U.S. roads and highways.

Oregon-highway-I84-speed-limit-trucksSpeed-limiter technology works with a truck engine’s electronic control module to govern how fast the vehicle can travel.

Back in August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration jointly proposed that all new trucks, buses, and commercial passenger vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds be fitted with speed limiting devices set to a specific maximum speed.

The proposed maximum speed has not yet been set, but is likely between 60 and 68 miles per hour.

The case for speed limiters on trucks

Each year there are numerous preventable commercial truck and bus crashes each year causing serious injuries and fatalities. From 2014-2015, truck crash deaths rose 4.1%.

Implementing speed limiting devices in heavy trucks would save lives. Small increases in speed have large effects on the force of an impact. There is also a direct correlation between stopping distances and rate of speed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analyzed crash data from 2004-2014: crashes involving heavy vehicles traveling faster are more deadly than crashes involving heavy vehicles traveling at lower speeds.

truck-crash-fatality-data_NHTSA

From the Federal Register Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

 

  • On average, 1,044 people died per years in truck crashes on roads with speed limits of at least 55 mph.
  • If truck speeds were limited to 60 mph, that would save between 162 to 498 lives per year.
  • If speeds were capped at 65 mph, as many as 214 lives would be saved, because the impact of a crash would be less severe.

Many trucking companies already use speed governors voluntarily—and run efficient, profitable companies. Requiring speed limiters in across the industry levels the playing field.

In addition to the lives saved, the cost and energy savings are huge. Requiring speed limiters in trucks could save  $1.1 billion and millions of gallons of fuel—every year. Insurance costs would likely drop. And, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be significant.

The American Transportation Association (ATA) has been pushing for speed limiter legislation for nearly a decade. The trucking group has urged safety regulators to look at limiting the speed of all vehicles—including passenger cars—to 65 mph.

“Federal data show that driving too fast for conditions or over the posted speed limit was the primary reason for 18% of all fatal crashes where a large truck was deemed at fault.”

Bill Graves, ATA president

The case against speed limiters

Other motor carriers and trucking associations claim that the proposed speed limiter rule will have no affect on public safety, but will increase costs on smaller and older fleets. They argue that speed limiters alone may end up creating a whole other set of safety issues for the driving public.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) say the use of speed limiter:

“… creates an artificial and unsafe speed differential between trucks and other highway users. Faster-moving cars sharing the road with slower-moving trucks create an increased likelihood for collisions as other vehicles compete to pass speed limited trucks and attempt to enter or exit highways.”

Some argue that speed governing creates a road hazard when trucks running side by side can’t pass each other. This leads to rolling bottlenecks and traffic congestion, negating some of the theoretical benefit of a reduction in fuel use and emissions.

Finally, emerging technology, like forward collision avoidance mitigation (FCAM) and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, could quickly make speed limiters obsolete.

And, since older trucks would be exempt from the mandatory speed limiters, carriers would try to keep these trucks on the road for as long as possible.

What is next?

The speed limiter rule has been in progress for years, but it hasn’t progressed enough to be shielded from the potential changes of the impending Trump administration. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked FMCSA to act quickly on the proposed rule.

For 30 years, I have handled truck and bus crash cases in the Pacific Northwest: so many of these crashes involve excessive speed. I think about these crashes when I drive at the speed limit on I-5 or 1-90 on rainy day, and semi-trucks cruise past me.

“Safety first” is a theme I’ve often heard from motor carriers and trucking associations; this proposal puts that principle front and center. It may not be a perfect solution, but speed limiters are a win for safety, cost savings and our environment.