The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it will launch a rulemaking to mandate speed limiters on heavy-duty trucks in 2012. In the Jan. 3 edition of the Federal Register, NHTSA granted two separate petitions for rulemaking, one filed by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the other by the safety advocacy group Road Safe America (RSA), in conjunction with nine truck carrier fleets.
Both petitions proposed installation of tamper-resistant devices to limit the top speed to 68 mph on trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) greater than 26,000 lbs. The key difference between the two petitions is that RSA and the nine carrier fleets also want speed limiters mandated on all existing trucks built after 1990.
Other countries have already mandated speed limiters. For instance, the European Union has limited the maximum speed of large trucks to 62 mph since 1994, as has Australia since 1990. Japan limited the maximum speed of large trucks to the equivalent of 56 mph in 2003, while Quebec and Ontario limited maximum speeds to the equivalent of 65 mph effective Jan. 1, 2009.
Petitions Started Four Years Ago
On Oct. 20, 2006, the ATA submitted a petition to NHTSA requesting the agency initiate rulemaking to amend the federal motor vehicle safety standards to require truck OEMs to install speed limiters on trucks with a GVWR greater than 26,000 lbs. It petitioned that trucks be equipped with an electronic control module (ECM) capable of limiting the maximum speed to no more than 68 mph. The ATA argued that reducing speed-related crashes involving trucks is critical to NHTSA’s safety mission.
On Sept. 8, 2006, RSA and nine truck carrier fleets petitioned NHTSA to likewise require OEMs to install a device to limit the maximum speed to 68 mph on trucks with a GVWR over 26,000 lbs. They also recommended that every Class 7 and Class 8 commercial motor vehicle manufactured after the 1990 calendar-year be equipped with an electronic engine speed governor.
During a public comment period in Jan. 2007, NHTSA received 3,850 comments. Comments from truck fleets and consumer groups maintained that large truck accidents that occur at higher speeds often result in more serious injuries or death compared to accidents at lower speeds. The faster a truck is traveling, the less time a truck driver has to react and stop. For example, large trucks require 20- to 40-percent more braking distance than passenger cars and light trucks for a given travel speed.
Schneider National, one of the petitioners, commented that its trucks have been speed-limited to 65 mph since 1996. According to Schneider’s crash data from its own fleet, trucks without speed limiters accounted for 40 percent of the company’s serious collisions while driving 17 percent of the company’s total miles. Schneider stated that its vehicles have a significantly lower crash rate than large trucks that are not speed limited or have a maximum speed setting greater than 65 mph.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) stated an onboard ECM will maintain speed control for vehicles when enforcement efforts lack resources. The Truck Maintenance Council stated that an increase of 1 mph results in a 0.1 mpg increase in fuel consumption, and for every 1 mph increase in speed over 55 mph, there is a reduction of 1 percent in tire tread life.
Opposition to Speed Limiters
Comments opposing the rulemaking were received from independent truckers, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), and the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA).
According to OOIDA, speed limiters would not have an effect on crashes in areas where the posted speed limit for trucks is 65 mph or below. OOIDA believes the petitioners are attempting to force all trucks to be speed-limited so the major trucking companies with speed-limited vehicles can compete for drivers with the independent trucking operations that have not limited their speeds to 68 mph or below. OOIDA argues speed limiters would be counterproductive. According to OOIDA, when weather and traffic conditions permit, a truck operating at posted speed limits is not unsafe, and most western states allow trucks to travel at the posted speed limit of 75 mph – the same as cars. Some comments favored a 75-mph limit for truck speed limiters, instead of 68 mph, to match the highest posted speed limit in the country.
TCA likewise commented that a speed differential will be created in many states by the 68-mph speed limit for heavy trucks and a higher speed limit for other vehicles, and may be an additional safety risk for cars and trucks. Other comments stated truck drivers will experience more fatigue with a 68-mph maximum speed, which could result in more crashes.
NHTSA cautions that initiating the rulemaking process by no means guarantees an actual regulation will be adopted.
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