On Monday, Jan. 3, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published in the Federal Register a notice announcing it would grant two petitions for rulemaking. The petitions requested that NHTSA establish a safety standard requiring devices that would limit the speed of certain heavy trucks. To be more concise, NHTSA said it plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on speed limiters in 2012.
The perception is that the pace of government rulemaking moves slowly — and the timeline put in place for this announcement has not changed that at all. The aforementioned petitions were submitted in the fall of 2006, which puts the response time at about four and one-half years and six years before a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be filed. A lot has happened in that time.
First, limiting speeds in truck fleets has, in some cases, saved fleets millions of dollars in fuel costs. I remember in 2008 when the price of diesel seemed to hit a new record every week, and many carriers began really lowering the settings of their speed limiters or even installing them on their trucks to save money on fuel.
Safety has always been paramount when it comes to carrier operations, but in this case, carriers responded to a down economy by adjusting their speeds to save money. A 1991 report to Congress even concluded that any benefit the trucking industry would obtain from limiting truck speeds was not sufficient enough to institute a full mandate of any speed reduction devices. The report cited that about 0.2% of all truck crashes occur at speeds in excess of 70 mph. Mandating a device focused on less than 1% of crashes doesn't seem like an effective use of DOT resources to me.
Second, federally mandating speed limiters would not really establish a safety standard since the majority of fleets already have adopted speed programs that are practical for their own operations. Ideally, NHTSA would realize that the time for a mandate on speed limiters has essentially passed. While I cannot possibly be the first to suggest this, it bears repeating that now is the time to create an incentive for carriers or owner-operators to take advantage of equipment that many fleets have already embraced instead of simply mandating the use of such equipment. The incentive-based approach, if you will, would be perceived more favorably by those that have not yet adopted speed limiters and also reward the forward-thinking carriers for being proactive in addressing their safety and economic needs.
As the industry continues to explore new and innovative uses for technologies, the federal government could encourage their adoption by providing an incentive for their use. Just by reading this issue of Fleet Owner, you can probably come across a technology or two that may or may not improve the performance, safety or otherwise, of your fleet.
As fleets continue to examine the bottom line while the nation rises from the recession, now may be the perfect time for the Dept. of Transportation to encourage adoption through incentives, rather than forcing an extraneous mandate on the industry. After all, our industry has demonstrated that it will take full advantage of any technology that has been shown to have practical, real-world benefits.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].