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New measure revisits speed limiters for heavy-duty trucks

May 26, 2021
A bipartisan bill announced on May 25 aims to codify into a law a speed limiter rule that has been under consideration for more than a decade.

House Reps. Lucy McBath (D-Georgia) and John Katko (R-New York) have introduced a bipartisan measure to limit the speed of heavy-duty commercial trucks. On May 25, they announced the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act, which would codify a speed limiter rule that has been under consideration and debated for more than a decade.

Although full details of the latest bill have not yet been disclosed, in 2019, a measure named the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act of 2019 was introduced by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, and Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. That measure directed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement regulations to require all new commercial motor vehicles with a gross weight of 26,001 lb. or more to be equipped with devices that would limit a truck’s speed to no more than 65 miles per hour.

The bill is named for 22-year-old Atlanta resident Cullum Owings, who was killed in a car-truck collision in 2002 while returning to college. The legislation has been endorsed by the Truckload Carriers Association, the Trucking Alliance, AAA, the Institute for Safer Trucking, Road Safe America, and the Safe Operating Speed Alliance.

“Millions of motorists are within a few feet of 80,000 lb. tractor-trailer rigs each day and there is no reason why that equipment should be driven at 75 or 80 or 85 miles per hour,” said Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA in Little Rock, Arkansas, co-founder and president of the Trucking Alliance, and a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). “This legislation will reduce the severity of large truck crashes and make the nation’s roadways safer for our drivers and all of us."

The Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA) also endorsed the latest bill.

“Driving a truck is not the same as driving a car. Speed compounds the dangers and it is beyond question that high speed is a leading cause of serious truck crashes,” Joe Fried, ATAA co-founder, said in a statement. “Keeping truck speeds at or below 65 mph (or 70 mph with use of automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control) will save lives. This has been proven in many other parts of the world. The technology to make this possible has been built into trucks since the 1990s and we are long overdue in requiring its implementation in the U.S.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), however, has been long opposed to speed limiters, citing the danger caused by creating a speed differential between trucks and passenger vehicles.

"OOIDA is opposed to mandatory speed limiters because they are dangerous for all highway users," an OOIDA spokesperson said. "Highways are safest when all vehicles travel at the same relative speed. This has become more and more apparent to states that previously had split speed limits for large trucks, and they are trending toward removing such policies."

Speed limiter legislation has a long history. In the fall of 2006, ATA asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require that OEMs install devices on heavy trucks that would prevent them from going more than 68 mph. At the time, ATA also petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to initiate a rule to prohibit operators from adjusting the devices so that vehicles could go over the 68 mph limit. In a separate petition, safety group Road Safe America and nine motor carriers asked FMCSA to mandate electronic speed governors, set at a maximum of 68 mph, on all trucks over 26,000 lb. and manufactured after 1990.

In January 2007, NHTSA and FMCSA sought public comments on both petitions.

A 2016 rulemaking notice on the subject came about 10 years later. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, the FMCSA and NHTSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on speed limiters. No action was taken on the proposal during the Obama administration, and the Trump administration decided to remove the mandate from the list of DOT priorities.

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