Trucks at Work

Back to 55

There's a lot of back-and-forth going on about limiting the maximum road speed of tractor-trailers to 68 mph. The fleets supporting the idea believe putting a 68 mph 'speed ceiling' in place would improve highway safety and save fuel. Those in opposition say they need all the power and speed they can muster to pass slower vehicles on the highway, and fear a 68 mph speed 'cap' would cause rigs to bunch up on the highway.

In my opinion, we're barking up the wrong tree here -- what we need to do is go back to the 55 mph national speed limit so haphazardly abandoned by Congress back in 1995 -- that's for ALL vehicles, mind you, not just big rigs.

That limit came into being back in 1973 during the Arab oil embargo against our country -- retaliation for U.S. support for Israel during the Yom Kippur war. With gasoline supplies dropping dramatically and prices spiking, limiting vehicles to 55 mph was but one energy conservation practice put into play by the Nixon Administration.

That's why we need to go back to it today. According to data compiled by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), motor carriers spent $98.3 billion on fuel in 2006 -- up over $20 billion in ONE YEAR from the $87.7 billion spent in 2005, and over $30 BILLION more than the $65.9 billion spent in 2004. Anybody worried about this trend here?

It's also interesting to note that the ATA and other trucking companies were AGAINST dropping the 55 mph speed limit back in 1995 -- a fact conveniently overlooked by so-called safety advocates these days who believe truckers are at the root of all highway safety problems.

Now, that isn't to say the trucking community was united to preserve the 'double-nickel' -- far from it. Many drivers opposed 55 mph because not only were trucks and highways built to handle higher speeds safely, many felt the 55 mph limit gave states a huge revenue stream from speeding fines, while limiting a driver's ability to make more money. True, highway fatalities have stayed flat since speed limits went up, but only on the trucking side -- fatalities on the general motoring public's side of the ledger continue to inch up every year.

But the real reason we need to go back is energy security. It's not about running out of oil; it's all about the countries that provide us with 60% of all the oil the U.S. consumes. Venezuela is in the thrall of a dictator that hates the U.S. Iraq's economy remains in shambles due to escalating terrorist and sectarian violence. Iran is pushing hard to get nuclear technology online -- and this is a nation whose constitution calls for the 'destruction of Israel.' Anybody out there believe they are NOT trying to build a nuclear bomb? And would NOT use it?

Diesel fuel is hovering near $3 a gallon now and the spigot is still wide open -- what if one of these nation's shuts it down? That's why we need to go back to 55 mph.