The Obama administration proposed a rule Friday that would force truckers to have a device on their big rigs limiting their top speed.
The measure, proposed by the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration floats using so-called speed limiters to cap maximum truck speeds at 60, 65 or 68 mph miles per hour, but the agencies said they will consider other speeds based on public input.
“This is basic physics,” said Mark Rosekind, NHTSA’s administrator. “Even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact. Setting the speed limit on heavy vehicles makes sense for safety and the environment.”
Regulators said the measure that would save lives and more than $1 billion in fuel costs annually.
Traffic safety regulators believe such a rule will reduce crashes involving heavy duty trucks. Large truck and bus collisions accounted for almost 4,000 deaths in 2014, according to the latest FMCSA data. Speeding trucks kill about 1,000 people annually, regulators said.
“Safe trucking moves our economy and safe bus operations transport our loved ones,” said T.F. Scott Darling III, FMCSA’s administrator. “This proposal will save lives while ensuring that our nation’s fleet of large commercial vehicles operates efficiently.”
The rule, first proposed in 2006, still won’t likely take effect until well 2018. The regulation’s details will be published in Federal Register next week. The trucking industry and other interested parties have 60 days to comment on the regulation.
It affects trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds, which covers vehicles such as big rigs, dump trucks, refuse haulers, many buses and other large work trucks.
Under the proposed rule, motor carriers operating commercial vehicles in interstate commerce would be responsible for maintaining the speed limiting devices at or below the designated speed for the life of the vehicle.
The regulation has the support of the American Trucking Associations, the largest trucking industry trade group, and nine of the largest carriers, including Schneider National Inc., C.R. England Inc. and J.B. Hunt Transport Inc.
“Speed is a major contributor to truck accidents and by reducing speeds, we believe we can contribute to a reduction in accidents and fatalities on our highways,” said Chris Spear, that ATA's chief executive.
“As an industry, we cannot be afraid of technology, but we also must make sure that technology has proven benefits,” Spear said. “Carriers who already voluntarily use speed limiters have found significant safety, as well as fuel efficiency and equipment lifespan benefits with little to no negative impact on productivity.”
Speed is a factor in a third of all vehicle crashes and 23 percent of all truck crashes, Sean McNally, spokesman for the ATA, told Trucks.com.
The trade group has urged safety regulators to limit the speed of all vehicles, including passenger cars, to 65 mph.
Other groups also have sought reduce speed limits. States have gradually raised speed limits since 1995, when Congress ended a national 55 mph speed limit intended to reduce fuel use.
Higher speed limits have contributed to the death of tens of thousands of people over two decades, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study. The Governors Highway Safety Association also is pushing for lower speed limits.
In 2014, there were 9,262 speed-related fatalities involving all types of vehicles — equivalent to 28 percent of crash deaths in the U.S. Approximately half of those fatalities occurred on roads where the speed limit was lower than 55 mph.
Setting a higher limit on truck speeds is less effective than a lower cap, regulators said. They estimate that limiting heavy vehicles to 68 mph would save between 27 and 96 lives annually in speed-related crashes. The safety agencies said that vehicles limited to 65 mph would save approximately 63 to 214 lives. Setting the maximum speed at 60 mph would possibly save the most lives annually — between 162 to 498 lives.
Some in the trucking industry are looking to see how the regulation will be enacted, and especially how it affects older trucks.
Speed limiter technology works with a truck engine’s electronic control module to govern how fast the vehicle can travel. But older trucks don’t have the electronic controls.
“What I want to know is will they be grandfathered or will this be a manufacturing standard or a retrofit requirement on in-use equipment,” said Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs for the Western States Trucking Association.
He said the rule will likely add expense to trucks but not have much of an effect on the highway.
“From a practical standpoint, the blow-back I’m expecting is this is just another useless government mandate since the fixed limit is likely to be higher than the speed trucks can legally travel in many states,” Rajkovacz said.
Some opponents of speed limiters see the new rule as a way for the ATA and large trucking companies to level the playing field to make sure all drivers are to run at the same speed.
“It seems these agencies are catering to the companies who already speed limit their drivers, but can't retain good drivers because they want to work for a company that doesn't govern their speed,” veteran truck driver DuWayne Marshall of Watertown, Wis., told Trucks.com.
“This is just one more way government agencies are trying to run every single aspect of a truck driver's business,” Marshall said.
The technology could create a safety hazard, said a veteran UPS driver, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.
Governing creates a hazard when trucks running side-by-side can’t pass each other and wind up creating rolling roadblocks and traffic congestion, he said. One of the trucks has to slow, or “back down” and drivers are reluctant to do that.
He was driving in Missouri last month when two trucks already speed-governed because of their carrier’s policy were next to each other.
‘It took about 20 miles for one truck to get around the other one, which created big problems for motorists,” the UPS driver told Trucks.com.
The trade group representing independent drivers opposed any efforts to mandate speed limiters since the first petition seeking the rule surfaced 10 years ago.
“Speed limiting devices are harmful to all highway users because they promote road rage and increase the likelihood for collisions,” Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told Trucks.com. “