Speed limiter legislation on heavy-duty trucks has been petitioned for by RoadSafe America and the American Trucking Associations for nearly ten years now and has recently been getting a lot of press. The proposal has been slow in coming and will not be published until spring/summer 2016. Under the proposed speed limiter rule, the maximum speed limit for all new and used Class 7 and Class 8 vehicles will be permanently set and limited to 65 mph via the engine’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU).
Historically, speed has been the biggest contributing factor in Class 7-8 crashes. The latest LARGE TRUCK AND BUS CRASH FACTS 2014 publication from the U.S. (page 48) DOT indicates that 40% of fatal crashes involving large trucks are at speeds of 60 mph and greater. Studies confirm that as speeds increase, the number of vehicles involved in crashes increase. The average cost of a commercial motor vehicle fatal crash was $11.8 million in 2013 (per U.S. DOT, FMCSA - 2015 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics).
Many of the largest commercial private and for-hire fleets already have speed limiters in place. Most large fleets lowered their maximum speed setting when diesel costs spiked in 2008 in an effort to conserve fuel and save money, but some have raised it back to their original top speed because diesel cost per gallon has fallen. Lower speeds and the overall cost savings, both in terms of fewer accidents and fuel savings, has statistically proven its importance.
Smaller fleets and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) remain united and vocal in their opposition to this mandate citing “a lack of solid science” to back up such a mandate. They also suggest that speed limited trucks “would make highways less safe” as the primary factors in the disapproval. Despite this opposition, the mandate will most likely be implemented.
Fleet Operators should not rely solely on the mandate to increase fleet safety and better manage fuel costs. Newly-built trucks offer state-of-the-art safety technologies with programmable features that control various facets of speed and performance, as well as cleaner-burning engines that offer higher mpg and reduced CO2 emissions. Common speed limiting settings for large fleets are to set the pedal road speed limit to 63 mph and the cruise control maximum speed to 65 mph. This incentivizes the driver to a high usage of cruise control with a .2 mpg improvement. These settings save money and allow the driver to focus on the road and traffic conditions.
Additional technologies such as adaptive cruise control with active braking rely on an engaged cruise control for maximum collision avoidance. Sixty-two percent of large trucks in fatal crashes were aged six years and older without the benefit of the safety technologies available on newer model trucks.
It’s important to point out that no single setting or technology achieves optimal safety. The safest fleets use a comprehensive approach of proper specs and engine settings, along with safety inspections and proactive driver training and awareness. However, it is proven that newer equipment with upgraded safety technologies and limiting speeds will result in savings, in both fatal crashes and fuel consumption.