The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has found another ally in its fight to add truck speed limiting devices to new tractor-trailers. New York state senator Charles Schumer is joining forces with the administration and calling upon the U.S. Department of Transportation—as well as federal authorities—to move with haste in approving a proposed rule that would require all new trucks and buses over 13 tons to have speed limiting devices in place. The senator and other truck safety groups hope that devices will limit the number of truck accidents caused by excessive speed.
Proposed Truck Safety Rule a Response to Staggering Crash Statistics
Truck speed limiting devices have long been sought by factions of the trucking industry, with the American Trucking Association (ATA) originally petitioning authorities to require such technology as far back as 2006. The recent number of truck-related crashes, however, has drawn more intense scrutiny from officials.
An average of 1,115 fatal heavy truck crashes occur annually, and in his letter to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Sen. Schumer pointed to 990 large truck crashes connected to unsafe speeds in New York alone.
The agencies backing the proposed rule believe that truck speed limiting devices capping such large vehicles at 60 miles per hour might save almost 500 lives each year.
What Would The New Speed Limiting Rule Look Like?
Regulators want all new U.S. trucks and buses that weigh more than 26,000 pounds to have electronic devices in place to physically prevent drivers from going above a set speed. Both vehicle manufacturers and trucking companies would have to adhere to this requirement.
As to what speed trucks and buses would be limited, a definite number has not been given. The administrations have suggested three different options: 60, 65 or 68 miles per hour. Officials have also stated that a different speed limit could be determined based on public response to the proposed ruling.
Currently, heavy truck speed limits vary by state. In some areas, the maximum speed is 85 miles per hour, despite the fact that many semi-truck tires are subject to failures and blowouts when traveling above 75 miles per hour. The ATA endorses a national speed limit of 65 miles per hour for heavy trucks.
According to agency estimates, the lower the speed limit set by the rule, the fewer people who die in a truck or bus accident. A limit of 60 miles per hour, for example, is expected to prevent up to 498 deaths each year. Moving that limit up only five miles, however, results in an estimated 214 lives saved. If the upper limit is chosen or a higher limit not yet proposed, 96 deaths—or less—are anticipated to be prevented each year.
The proposed bus and truck speed limiting device would not be added to vehicles already in operation, as NHTSA has said it would be too costly to factor such vehicles in. Approximately 70 percent of trucking companies currently use electronic speed limiting devices, but Sen. Schumer said in a statement on the proposal that “the ones not equipped with this potentially life-saving technology can barrel down roadways and cause accidents with grave consequences”.
In public comments regarding the FSCMA’s proposed rule for speed limiting devices, an attorney at of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, & Goldman noted that there is a need for such devices, to protect the public.
“The problem we see is that despite the ‘training’ that truck drivers receive (which in many cases is meager at best) and despite the so-called safety briefings they are supposed to undergo, many truck drivers completely underestimate the distance needed to stop a vehicle of the size and weight of a commercial tractor-trailer … and these large vehicles are cumbersome to maneuver, so any last-minute attempts at evasive maneuvers always end up badly.”
“My clients, colleagues, and I would be overjoyed to see speed limiting devices on such vehicles.”
Economical and Environmental Benefits of Truck Speed Limiting Devices
Beyond the life-saving aim of the proposed speed-limiting rule, officials point to potential cost and sustainability benefits for trucking companies. In a statement, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.”
Similarly, ATA President Chris Spear said in a statement that trucking companies currently using speed limiters “have found significant safety, as well as fuel efficiency and equipment lifespan benefits with little to no negative impact on productivity”.
Some estimates suggest the speed limiting devices could save $1 billion in fuel costs.
Response to the Proposed Rule
It’s not surprising that Sen. Schumer has gotten involved in the proposed rule and is pushing for quicker progress on its approval: The FMCSA announced a 60-day public comment period on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking back on August 26, 2016, and then extended it by another 30 days to December 7, 2016.
While officials and citizens have responded positively to the proposed ruling, many truck drivers have voiced concerns. Some say that a speed disparity between themselves and nonprofessional drivers could create safety issues, and others have suggested that the reduced speeds would cut into the hours they can drive in a day and/or the time they can spend at home.
Early in November, more than 3,000 comments had already been submitted in response to the proposed truck speed limiting devices proposal.
Other Recent Trucking Legislation
On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). The act was designed to allow for infrastructure improvements and address issues with trucking safety, including reducing driver fatigue. Exemptions to the FAST Act, however, allow some truck drivers to count time spent waiting at loading sites to be their 30-minute rest break and allowing drivers who are transporting livestock to not take a 30-minute rest break. Those exemptions may negate the desired effect of some FAST Act requirements.