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Speeding Truck On Highway

Speed Limiters May Be on the Way

May 17, 2022
Although backed by trucking companies, doubts persist regarding speeds.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced its intention to develop a rule mandating speed limiters for heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate operation, a change that had been sought for decades by American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The agency is in the process of gathering input from the industry and the public in anticipation of issuing a formal supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking in 2023.

According to FMCSA, the rule is intended to advance the Biden Administration’s National Roadway Safety Strategy that has as its ultimate goal creating a situation where there are zero fatal highway accidents. The strategy has identified speed as a significant factor in fatal crashes and speed management as a primary tool to reduce serious injuries and fatalities.

“The number of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes in which speed is listed as a contributing factor is unacceptable,” FMCSA said. “A carrier-based approach could provide the opportunity to compel fleets that are not currently using speed limiters to slow down their CMVs within a relatively short period.”

In 2020, 4,842 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes, a 4% decrease from 2019 but still a 33% increase since 2011, the National Safety Council points out. A total of 4,965 people died in those crashes that year. The involvement rate per 100 million large-truck miles traveled was down 5% from 2019, but up 18% since 2011. Trucks represented 9% of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes in 2020

In 2019, there were 9,478 fatal automotive and CMV crashes in the United States. where at least one driver was speeding, representing 26% of total traffic fatalities for the year, according to reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is responsible for keeping the truck fatality statistics for the government.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, representing state and provincial truck enforcement officials, also notes that speeding was a factor in 26% of all U.S. traffic fatalities in 2018, killing 9,378 people or an average of more than 25 people per day.

As a result, CVSA has chosen to make speeding the focus area for this year’s Operation Safe Driver Week, a roadside inspection program scheduled to be held in the U.S., Mexico and Canada the week of July 10-16.

For its part, ATA is happy that the speed limiter idea is finally getting serious attention from federal enforcement officials. However, it has expressed some doubts about the specific speed limits cited in the FMCSA announcement of its intent to develop the rule. However, when it comes to independent truckers, they don’t like the speed limiter idea at all.

ATA has sought adoption of speed limiters on trucks for years, including supporting it through legislation, as another way to prevent shippers from applying pressure on drivers and fleet operators to operate unsafely. In the past, it was not uncommon for shippers to tell truckers they have to get a particular load across country in an unreasonably short period time, which cannot be done without speeding, and threaten that they will find another trucker willing to take the load if the trucker won’t accept it.

“ATA is pleased that FMCSA is pursuing a constructive, data-driven approach to the issue of truck speed limiters in its latest proposal,” said Chris Spear, president of ATA. “We intend to thoroughly review FMCSA’s proposal, and we look forward to working with the agency to shape a final rule that is consistent with our policy supporting the use of speed limiters in conjunction with numerous other safety technologies.”

What Should Be Top Speed?

The seeming hesitation on the part of ATA is due to one crucial question: What will be the speeds that will be chosen to limit the truck to?

Proposed speeds are not included in the current intent notice issued by FMCSA. However, in 2016 it issued joint notice with NHTSA in a similar speed limiter rulemaking proceeding where both agencies called for top speeds of 60, 65 and 68 miles per hour (MPH). In the new proceeding, FMCSA is acting alone, although it said it intends to consult with NHTSA later.

Back when the 2016 rulemaking was under consideration, ATA backed setting a maximum speed of 65 mph, but it is taking a more expansive approach today. “ATA and many motor carriers shared several concerns about the efficacy of a one-size-fits-all solution applied to a sector as complex and nuanced as trucking,” Spear added in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. (FMCSA is part of the Department of Transportation.)

Spear said that foremost among the industry’s concerns “were the unintended and potentially dangerous consequences of limiting commercial drivers to one universal speed limit despite the varying limits set for passenger vehicles on interstate and secondary roads. Another question was how such a rule would adapt to the rapid evolution taking place in vehicle safety technology.”

When it comes to which kind of technology should be applied, FMCSA says it has not yet decided on whether to require a mechanical speed limiter (usually called a governor) or an electronic control unit, something that already is commonly in use on today’s cars and trucks.

Not at all happy with the proposal is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), primarily representing independent truck owner-operators. “While this change is being proposed as a way to improve safety, it is nothing more than a backdoor maneuver by large carriers to gain a competitive advantage through extremely costly, burdensome and unproven mandates,” Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA, declared in a letter to Buttigieg.

Noting that his members registered their opposition to 2021 legislation promoting speed limiters that would have set a maximum speed of 70 mph, Spencer stressed that the two technologies required for speed control—automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control—“come at a significant cost, and it will be mostly large carriers that can afford to use them. It’s not just the installation cost of these mandates; these systems can fail and require maintenance and other work leading to significant downtime and repair costs.”

He added that speed limiters create serious operational challenges and dangers for truckers, including difficulties in navigating merges, and the creation of running blockades (known as elephant races) that increase “road rage” among other drivers who are traveling at generally faster speeds.

Arbitrary speed limits also make it difficult for truck drivers to switch lanes to accommodate merging traffic at entrance ramps, and to merge into traffic themselves, Spencer told Buttigieg. The most efficient and cost-effective means to promote safer roads is simply to enforce existing speed limits, he said.

Comments are due by May 28 and information on the proceeding and how to comment is available here.

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